The way we consume music has changed a lot over the years. Because our phones and computers function as our music library, we have the possibility to listen to our favourite music everywhere. The quality of how we listen to music has changed as well. There are tons of people listening to their music through headphones or speakers of phones, tablets and laptops. Nowadays, the new kinds of headphones that have gradually made their way onto the market and into the hearts of music lovers are wireless headphones. Among the many that are now available, AirPods have today become a leader in popularity. They have seduced and are now part of the life of hundreds of millions of people. However, we are now aware of the impacts of Apple and its products on our lives, on us, and on the environment. VOIZ’s recent campaign, #appleisfasttech, gave me the idea of finding a great alternatives to the AirPods (it is still ongoing, so go support VOIZ on social media and help them make Apple take accountability on their actions!). While doing my research, my interest was sparked by one of House of Marley’s products: the Liberate Air True Wireless Earbuds. From what I found, the earbuds, in their current state, could be a good alternative to AirPods. However, improvements are greatly needed to be able to call them sustainable. House of Marley reveals, in the sourcing of some of its materials (the one that have the biggest impacts) and the manufacturing of its product, a blatant lack of information and transparency while still advertising them as sustainable. It almost feels like greenwashing. The border is thin but fortunately they did not cross it. I have big hopes for the company and I think that House of Marley has a bright future in the electronics industry.
House of Marley, being environmentally aware, uses materials which have not only aesthetic qualities and acoustical mechanical properties, but also sustainable properties. Their Liberate Air True Wireless Earbuds are designed with 6 main eco-friendly materials, the first of which is solid bamboo. In fact, the top of the buds is made of a nice, pretty, bamboo engraved with the company’s logo by a CNC milling machine and combined with wood fiber composite. As I mentioned in a previous review on Casetify’s Ultra Compostable phone case, bamboo is THE ultimate sustainable material. It is low maintenance, grows super fast, is produced using a carbon positive process (Carbon positive moves beyond carbon zero by making additional 'positive' or 'net export' contributions by producing more energy on site than the building requires and feeding it back to the grid) , and has a higher compressive strength than wood and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Wood composite is constructed by combining wood derivatives and plastic fibers, resulting in a more durable product. The compositing process demands far less energy than the lumbering industry. The body of the buds, an inch-long oval that rests on top of the ear, is made of the third material, a matte black recycled silicone which makes the buds look more stylish. The sillicone used, named REGRIND™ Silicone by the company, is a specially created material made by reclaiming and upcycling post-process and post-consumer waste. The cups, also known as ear gel (that come in 3 sizes), at the tips of the buds, are designed with medical grade non-toxic silicone to help repel germs. House of Marley uses non-implantable silicone for components that have direct contact with the skin. Silicone is a great material to use, as it can easily be regenerated into new forms and uses. Another material used in the making of the earbuds is recyclable aluminum. It is an efficiently reusable metal that significantly reduces the amount of the material entering the waste stream. The aluminum recycling process has existed on a major scale, within communities, and on an industrial-scale for over 50 years, saving energy and massively reducing global mining. Finally, the last of the main materials used is REWIND, House of Marley’s eco-friendly fabric. It is weaved from recycled materials to create a durable, high quality product. It is constructed from a distinctive blend of 30% reclaimed organic cotton, 30% reclaimed hemp and 40% recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a highly recyclable plastic resin and a form of polyester).
The earbuds come in a three inches long black case, small enough to fit in a regular size pocket. Girls, finally something that we can fit in those tiny jeans pockets! The top of the case is covered in a mesh black fabric, while the bottom is lightly speckled plastic. As well as for the wireless earbuds, the case is also designed using recycled silicone, bamboo, wood composite and REWIND fabric.
With this much detailed information on their materials, House of Marley seems impeccable in terms of transparency. However, while scrolling on the materials section of the company’s website, I ended up realising that, apart from the aluminum, House of Marley doesn’t provide information about the metals that go into the internal composition of the Liberate Air True Wireless earbuds. Some metals are often, if not always, present in the making of electronics and have the most fatal impact on both the environment and living beings. For example, extracting the lithium in lithium-ion batteries involves drilling massive holes in the salt flats of Bolivia, which has diverted water from farmers and contaminated local water supplies. Another crucial metal, cobalt, usually comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the gold rush for the mineral has encouraged child labor, and industrial runoff from "artisanal mines" pollutes the land and water. With the company not saying anything on the matter of its metal use, but still advertising this product as "sustainable earbuds" while only talking about the products they are able to obtain sustainably, this feels like a strong case of Greenwashing. It is imperative that House of Marley breaks the silence and opens a real dialogue with its consumers about the problems surrounding the sourcing of the metals they use and shows us how they are working towards a more sustainable sourcing if they can’t do without these metals.
As for many products that I reviewed, the manufacturing of these wireless earbuds is unfortunately not detailed on the company’s website. Thankfully, this information can be found from other sources. In a nutshell, human labor is essential after the acquisition of raw materials. The workforce is mainly needed for the assembling process. The assembling is done either with the help of machines (like the CNC milling machine used to engrave the bamboo top part of the buds) or by hand. The company doesn’t disclose the location of the manufacturing, but they state that the product is distributed by The House of Marley, LLC located in Commerce Town, Michigan, US. In Europe, it is distributed by FKA Brands Ltd, located in Tonbridge, UK.
While the manufacturing plants’ location is not revealed, I think that is it very likely that the earbuds are made in China, as a lot of the electronics (if not most) on the market are assembled there because of the accessibility and affordability of the manpower. If this is the case, it raises the big problem and controversy of the working condition and treatment of facilities’ workers in China. It is widely known today that a lot of them have been exploited, working long and arduous hours with wages that barely allow them to support themselves and their families. If it is not the case, great! We, however, still need to know more about where and in which conditions the company’s products are manufactured.
Next to this is the issue of the transportation of the product from the manufacturing facilities to the distribution location, and the shipping from the distribution areas to the consumers. All of this has a significant impact on the environment, as transportation is a large source of greenhouse gas emission. As a matter of fact, according to Elsevier (a Netherlands-based publishing company specializing in scientific, technical, and medical content), globally, the transportation sector is responsible for 14% of global GHG emissions with freight transportation (goods movement by truck, rail, marine and air) alone, producing 6% of total emissions. Based on the current demand pathway, global freight demand is expected to triple from 2015 to 2050. Therefore, the GHG emission will keep growing exponentially. It would have been great to receive an insight from the company about their present and future plan regarding the reduction of these GHG’s emissions.
Making a sustainable product comes down to considering the way materials are sourced, how products are manufactured and packaged. and how they’re dealt with when no longer needed. To ensure that consumers are shopping sustainably means choosing long-lasting products that can be repaired, be dealt with by the company (recycled) or be thrown into nature without causing any harm. That’s why House of Marley is focused on using products harmless to the environment for the making of their product. In case there is a problem with the buds, the company offers to replace them for $59 per buds or replace parts around the battery if they wear out before the battery does (at a price fixed at the time of repair). House of Marley also has a partnership with Best Buy that lets people bring in their headphones for recycling, and says that “owning the end-of-product life cycle and implementing their own take back program is a goal for House of Marley.” This, however, doesn’t apply to the battery because, according to the company, “the batteries cannot be replaced in the buds.” At most, they can be mailed back to the manufacturer or the company. To Jim Puckett, executive director and founder of BAN (Basel Action Network which assesses the environmental impact of products, and has shed light on the often unethical practices of so-called developing world recycling centers), the bottom line is that a disposable, tiny electronic device is difficult to recycle on a technical level, and unlikely to be recycled in the first place, because it is an arduous step for consumers to take. Since some tiny components of these buds (like the battery or the circuitry) cannot be recycled, they will eventually form what is called electronic waste known as e-waste. According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 (which provides the most comprehensive overview of the global e-waste challenge), 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste, was generated globally in 2019. Even worse, only 17.4% of it was correctly recycled, meaning 83% was discarded through improper means – mostly in landfills, which could leak harmful toxins into the earth. Those are alarming figures and I wish House of Marley would communicate and tell us what they plan to do for their e-waste to be part of those 17.4% properly recycled.
House of Marley was co-founded in January 2011 by Ron Antony Marley and Alon Kaufman to carry on the legacy of Bob Marley’s (Ron’s father) love for music and the planet. Its eco-conscious identity was created in collaboration with the Marley family. House of Marley is self-proclaimed as the first audio brand to craft products that include sustainable materials and contribute to global reforestation. By combining high-quality materials and innovative design, the eco-conscious audio maker seeks to create state-of-the-art audio products; better for the Earth and for music. In fact, a percentage of each of House of Marley products’ sales contributes to the planting of trees worldwide to support the global reforestation efforts of a non-profit organization One Tree Planted. This initiative is about more than just planting trees, as reforestry is connected to cleaner air, water filtration, increased bio-diversity, carbon sequestering, and safe jobs for over 1.6 billion people today. Through this collaboration, the company has planted 242,400 trees since 2017. Its goal for 2020 was to have planted 85,600 more trees in honor of the late Bob Marley, celebrating what would have been his 75th birthday, and to have dedicated an additional 25,000 trees around the the globe to impacted areas needing support. However, House of Marley’s website did not provide any update on the matter. Therefore, we don’t know if they attained their objective or if they really put the necessary effort in it. House of Marley, in addition to supporting global reforestation, also supports ocean conservation via the Surfrider Foundation. The company is working with the foundation to help maintain their global mission to protect the world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network with international affiliates in Europe, Australia, Japan, Morocco and Argentina. They also aim to also raise awareness for their Blue Water Task Force and One Watershed programs, supporting the protection and enjoyment of our beaches while inspiring a new generation of ocean conservationists. It’s really great to hear that the company is fighting for our oceans. However, I wish they were more specific, telling us exactly what they are doing and how they are getting involved, with concrete data. On top of that, the company donates 5% of its annual profits to 1Love, an organization dedicated to spreading Bob Marley's message of unity and peace by lifting up a new generation of "young gongs" to strike the hammer for charities, causes, and ideas that can change the world.
From the numerous customers’ reviews that I read, The Liberate Air True Wireless Earbuds seem to offer a good audio performance, with smooth and powerful bass, and give 9 hours of listening and 32 hours in total (with the charging case). The integrated microphones allow a surprising phone call quality. They also provide basic controls such as play, pause, track skipping and call acceptance, which are activated by tapping the buds, and there's an option to tap to interact with Siri or Google Assistant. They also offer stereo voice communication for clear voice calls and USB-C charging. In addition, the product, originally at $149.99, is currently on sale. It now costs $99.99 with free economy shipping (5 to 7 days), expert support and no hassle returns (offer available in the US only for now). We all agree that House of Marley, despite their will to create sustainable earbuds, still have a lot of improvements to make at several levels. I think that their products do not deserve yet to be called sustainable. But, next to Apple, who is far from being sustainable and known for its unethical practices and sells their Airpods at a higher price ($159 for the AiPods and $249 for the AirPods Pro), with a lower battery life (24 hours in total with the case), I would definitely buy House of Marley's Buds without batting an eye. They are, I believe, a great alternative to Airpods. House of Marley, if they keep doing better, have the potential to become a must-have in the area of sustainable headphones in a few years.