Updated: Sep 13, 2021
We protect our beloved mobile phones with plastic cases, and unfortunately, this has become a big problem for our environment. This is a photo of sixty-thousand plastic cases thrown away because they no longer fit the current phone models. Many more cases are thrown out every year worldwide, creating a plastic disposal problem that pollutes our Planet and puts animal lives at risk. It is a big challenge to clean up all the plastic humans have thrown out, but we still can make responsible choices and stop putting plastic into our environment.
More and more people are looking for ways to avoid consuming plastic products and adding to the growing amount of plastic waste ending up in our landfills and oceans, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Although biodegradable plastics and bio-based compostable plastics are not new alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics, there still seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding "greener" plastic products. A few things you should know about compostable plastics that can help you pick the right products and dispose of them properly.
To create a sustainable, companies should avoid the use of synthetic, petroleum-based materials, which require more energy to produce, may produce toxic chemicals and fumes during the process of manufacturing, and are typically non-recycled and non-recyclable. One common greenwashing technique many companies use is advertising their products as "plant-based" when they only contain 10 or 20% plant-derived materials and are otherwise made from synthetics. Pela's signature Flaxstic material is made from 45% plant-based materials. The back panel of our new Clear case is made from 100% plant-based materials.
End of Life
A phone case's ideal end of life should be less than a year and should not result in any harmful chemicals leaching into the soil or water or producing any microplastics. To achieve this, you should choose products certified as compostable and be sure that they are certified through a third party and not by the manufacturer themselves. The Pela Case is designed to fully compost in under six months, making it the only compostable phone case currently on the market. Here you can see the progress of Pela case (Yellow) decomposing.
Conventional Case vs Pela: 12 Week Compost Test
An image of Pela's latest 12-week compost test. See how Pela (right) compares to a conventional phone case (left). For this test, they bury both cases into an industrial compost in Kelowna, BC, Canada. The compost is turned and tended to by the facility, as you can see, the Pela case has almost completely broken down after 12 weeks, while the traditional case is largely intact.
The Problem with Greenwashing
Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing technique used to promote a product as environmentally friendly when it is not. Examples of Greenwashing include using false certification claims, incorrect terminology, and specific emphasis on irrelevant claims. Greenwashing not only helps businesses make more sales but can also help improve their reputation. Consumers are left to research to distinguish truly sustainable products from fakes with few regulations to prevent greenwashing.
1. Biodegradable Plastic DOES NOT EQUAL Compostable Plastic
One of the most common greenwashing techniques used in the phone case market is the interchangeable use of "biodegradable" and "compostable." Despite the common misconception that the terms "biodegradable" and "compostable" are the same, these two terms have very different meanings. And the difference does matter.
Biodegradable refers to a material breaking down with the help of microorganisms. Biodegradable products may also fully break down over time but do not have a set lifespan and may take decades or centuries to degrade fully. Additionally, biodegradable products will not break down efficiently in a compost pile and should be thrown away and sent to the landfill. There is no time limit when the product breaks down to be labelled a biodegradable plastic, and these plastics can leave behind toxic residue.
Compostable is a material capable of breaking down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose. Compostable plastic must also disintegrate and become indistinguishable in the compost and CANNOT leave any toxic material behind. Compostable products must fully break down, leaving nothing behind within a year, and can only compost in a composting environment, not a landfill.
2. Compostable plastic WILL NOT biodegrade in a landfill.
Throwing a "green" plastic product into a landfill defeats the purpose of creating and consuming biodegradable and compostable plastics in the first place. Many people think it will at least break down eventually. On the contrary, no, it probably won't. These special plastics need air, moisture and sunlight to break down properly, and unfortunately, landfills tend to entomb waste and deprive it of these necessary elements. If you buy compostable plastics, it's up to you to make sure it ends up in a composting environment.
3. Biodegradable and compostable plastics DO NOT mix with recyclable plastics.
Now we understand "don't throw compostable plastic in the garbage", but remember that goes for the recycle bins as well. Throwing biodegradable and compostable plastics into recycle bins can create a wasteful extra step for the recycling plant to sort out bioplastics from recyclable plastics or contaminate the recycled materials in the process, defeating the whole purpose of both environmentally friendly initiatives. This is why clear labelling is so crucial: compost your compostables!
4. Not all biodegradable and bioplastics are free of phthalates or bisphenol A (BPA)
Most people see the word bio and think "natural" and associate it with safe. But safe or non-toxic plastics are determined by further testing to ensure a bioplastic is free of harmful chemicals like lead, cadmium, BPA and phthalates. Another instance where reading the fine print is essential.