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New Zealand start-up debuts ‘the last speaker you’ll ever buy’

Most tech companies across the world don’t exactly encourage sustainability with their products.

Instead of helping consumers to upgrade items they already own, businesses often tout the latest and greatest product in the range – meaning people ditch their electronic goods for a brand-new, shiny product.

But a company founded by Ketzal Sterling, a New Zealand film director of You Move You Die and High Octane 2 fame, wants to bring change to an industry not often lauded for its environmental credentials.

Sterling says technology companies aren’t being mindful enough of the massive global e-waste problem occurring worldwide.

“Currently, large technology companies sell consumers replacement devices by promoting incremental upgrades and limiting lifecycles,” he says.

“It shows complete disregard for consumers and the environment. We want to change the way people use, think and feel about the devices they love.”

E-waste statistics are hard to come by, but the EPA (United States Environmental Protection agency) estimates that in 2009, US consumers and businesses got rid of 2.37 million tonnes of electronics.

In New Zealand, 2006 estimates put people’s e-waste at 80,000 tonnes each year.

Google looked like it was going to help solve this problem with Project Ara, a smartphone model that could be built and upgraded by consumers over time.

However, it was reportedly canned in September last year.

Sterling says the idea for Module came from observing the way technology is consumed – in particular, the smartphone model.

“Phones are virtually unrepairable and rapidly discarded, it’s hard to stomach that cycle as a Kiwi outdoorsman,” he says. “I had the same thought after purchasing a wireless speaker, unlike Decibel, that had a non-user replaceable battery. I was stunned. Technology can be and should be designed to last a lifetime, so why is it not?”

After raising more than $185,000 on equity crowdfunding platform AlphaCrowd last year, The Module Project’s goal is to design and manufacture the longest lasting consumer tech products ever created.

The first cab off the ranks, the Decibel bluetooth speaker, has launched on Indiegogo and is made of repairable and recyclable materials that aren’t glued together or sealed shut.

The entire device can be disassembled with a wrench, while every component is upgradable, from the lithium battery to the electronic control module.

Module also recycles all of the materials itself, with each component or upgrade purchased from the company coming with pre-paid return packaging for replacement.

“We’ve found a way, through advanced modular products, to greatly reduce the rate of destruction while still delivering world class tech,” Sterling says.

The Indiegogo campaign has been a smash hit and already exceeded its target, going over its US$10,000 target by more than US$1000.

There’s still a month left of the campaign, with the speaker starting off at $US195. 

Sterling says there’s a number of product categories the company could move into next, but for now its attention is on Decibel.

“We’re researching a wide variety of consumer products and we’re eager to make the jump to smartphones, tablets and laptops. It’s clear they can benefit from our company ethos, they can all go modular with long life designs. We’re also delving into home appliances and automotive – but for the time being we are focused on delivering Decibel.”

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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