How Sustainable Is Wearable Technology?

Wearable technology, such as fitness trackers and smart watches, have grown in popularity in recent years, and smart clothing and accessories will only become more ubiquitous over the next five years. These wearables provide all sorts of benefits, including the ability to motivate you to stay active and fit.

While they can no doubt help you with your personal health and wellness, one question remains — how do they affect the health and wellness of the planet? Here is a look at how sustainable wearable technology is, and how that will change in the coming years.

Current Generation of Wearables

Fashion is already considered the second largest pollution-creating industry in the world, trailing only oil. Add electronic components into the mix, and it becomes even more difficult to consider wearable technology truly sustainable.

That doesn’t necessarily mean each and every device is bad for the environment. Yet just as you would with an old cell phone or tablet, you should be sure to properly recycle your wearable device should you get a new one.

Of course, the current generation of wearables goes beyond fitness trackers, and some of these devices make the world a better place in their own way. For example, UNICEF uses an armband that measures child nutrition and whether kids in impoverished nations are eating enough.

Recycling and Research

Old discarded electronics, including wearables, can be an environmental issue if not properly recycled. There are ways to recycle your old Fitbit that can help the world in other ways as well.

For example, the nonprofit organization RecycleHealth collects old wearables from people who upgrade to new models or stop using them for any other reason. The group then donates them for fitness studies in underserved regions of the world.

For the most part, wearable devices are more common among those with a fair amount of disposable income. However, organizations such as RecycleHealth can make such devices more accessible to poorer segments of the population, in turn helping those folks learn about things such as their own health habits and sleeping patterns.

What the Future Holds

When it comes to sustainability and wearable technology, the future is bright. As innovation continues to grow, so will the sustainability of all sorts of wearable items.

One emerging example is from the Danish company Diffus. It has developed a solar-powered handbag using photovoltaic cells that can generate enough power from the sun to charge a cell phone. Not only does it generate energy to charge your device, but it’s also simply a cool-looking piece of fashion.

Solar-powered technology offers all sorts of implications for wearables. There are sports jackets for skiers and hikers that have solar panels that provide energy to charge a cell phone or MP3 player.

The tech could be used in much more serious situations as well, such as a soldier who needs to carry batteries to keep their equipment up and running. Even devices such as fitness trackers could one day harness the power of solar to eliminate the need for traditional batteries.

Another emerging example stems from a partnership between Levi’s and Google’s Project Jacquard. The companies have teamed up to create a denim gesture-controlled “smart jacket” that can connect to a number of smartphone apps, such as maps or music. Again, an innovation like this could be a hit among the tech-savvy and fashionable crowd, but it could also be very useful to the military and other industries.

Build Your Own Device

Rather than recycling your old wearable and buying a new one, you could just create an updated version of your current device, keeping it out of the landfill.

That’s the idea behind Blocks, a sustainable modular smartwatch that lets you customize it based on needs and lifestyle. The watch has a good number of modules to choose from, each with its own special feature, creating a wide variety of possibilities. Blocks watches are available for preorder and should roll out sometime this year.

In general, as consumers demand more sustainable products, manufacturers of wearable technology will continue to develop new ways to make their devices eco-friendly. While the industry isn’t there quite yet, new and emerging innovations have created optimism for an environmentally responsible future.

Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols enjoys writing about technology and various scientific topics. She is the editor of Schooled By Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves to go hiking, fishing,and reading. On clear nights she likes to go star gazing in local parks.

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