The average American gets a new mobile phone every 22 months, ditching over 150 million "old" devices in 2010 alone. Only about 11% were recycled. Along with the phones go the battery chargers: About 100,000 tons of chargers end up in the trash annually, in part because they're often not compatible with anything else, and also because—just like with phones—most consumers want something that looks new.
One company hopes to change that with a charger designed as something people will want to keep for years, or even a lifetime, if similar mobile devices still exist decades from now. The Future Proof Charging Nest, handmade from reclaimed wood, claims to be "extinction proof" as devices evolve, and it looks good enough that consumers should be reluctant to throw it out.
"We've seen a lot of very device-specific docks out there," says Craig Dalton, CEO of Dodocase, the San Francisco-based company that created the new charger. "We were super frustrated that you'd buy something for your iPhone 4 and then the iPhone 5 came out and all of the sudden you're throwing away a $100 hunk of aluminum that someone nicely machined for you."
When the company began designing the dock, knowing that the iPhone 6 was on its way later this year, they decided to make it adaptable.
"If people upgrade to the new iPhone, or they get a new case, or they switch to Android, they shouldn't have to get rid of this beautiful piece of wood," Dalton says. "We reclaimed this wood from the state of California for the purpose of giving it a longer life, and to see it destined for the garbage can, if you change devices, seems ludicrous to us."
Earlier this year, the European Union voted to make universal chargers required by law by 2016, so it should soon be easier for devices like this to last longer.
Wireless chargers are another alternative, but only work across some different devices, and they waste energy in typical use. They also tend to look like other electronics—quickly dated. The most interesting thing about the new charging nest may be the fact that it looks more like furniture than a gadget. It's expensive at $99.95, but that might be even more reason for someone to keep it instead of tossing it out.
While some designers are attempting to find ways to upgrade phones without replacing the entire device, it's likely that the parade of new products will continue with most mobile manufacturers. But chargers could stay a little more constant.
"We can't necessarily force Apple to not update their phones," says Dalton. "But if the accessory products can be modified and adjusted and be future-proof, then I think we're all better off."