Phone cases for our smartphones seem like a smart investment. But what if you’re trying to reduce your use of plastic? Several brands now feature phone cases made of compostable bioplastic. Are compostable plastic phone cases a better choice?
Two manufacturers are out in front in the compostable phone case world: Pela and EcoBlvd. Both make claims that the typical consumer may not easily understand regarding:
- The material used to make the product
- Whether the product is home compostable or not
- What do if home composting isn’t an option
The downside of traditional plastic cases is clear. They cannot be transferred from one phone to another because they are designed for a specific model. Most recycling programs won’t accept phone cases. That means that most phone cases will likely end up in a landfill where they take hundreds of years to decompose, leaching toxins into the soil and water as they break down into microplastics.
Phone cases made from compostable plastics use plant materials and often incorporate at least some renewable or recycled materials. And the manufacturers claim they can be fully composted within six to 12 months. We’ve reduced the complex information available from two composable phone case makers to make your choices clear.
A Few Things To Know About Compostable Plastics
As with many choices consumers face, it’s not always easy to know if manufacturer claims are as good as they sound. Many companies make good-faith efforts to increase the sustainability of their products, but others engage in the practice of greenwashing, making false claims, using vague terms such as “all natural” or “eco-friendly.”
Compostable plastics are typically made from plant-based materials. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Plastic that is compostable is biodegradable, but not every plastic that is biodegradable is compostable. Whereas biodegradable plastic may be engineered to biodegrade in soil or water, compostable plastic refers to biodegradation into soil conditioning material (i.e., compost) under a certain set of conditions.” In other words, to be compostable, plastics must degrade back into compost, the nutrient-dense soil amendment gardeners love.
Products too often claim to be “compostable” without specifying that they must be sent to an industrial composting facility. Industrial composting reaches higher temperatures than a home compost pile, so can break down heartier materials. But such facilities are not available in many regions of the United States and only a few accept compostable plastics. Additionally, because there are currently no standard tests for evaluating the home compostability of a product, claims that phone cases will compost in home piles are not necessarily verifiable.
Pela wants to “create a waste free future” by making a product “that you hold every day.” The company also makes the Lomi Home Composter, an appliance that reaches industrial compost pile temperatures. In fact, Pela phone cases can be processed in the Lomi, as founder Brad Pedersen explained on Earth911’s Sustainability in Your Ear podcast.
Is the resulting compost safe? The Pela Case is made from Flaxstic®, a compostable bioplastic elastomer combined with flax straw materials. When it breaks down, it produces compost that is free of phthalates, BPA, cadmium, and lead, common residual pollutants that make the resulting soil unusable. The material also carries a lower carbon footprint than plastic cases made from petroleum.
If you cannot compost your Pela Case locally, the company offers free recycling through its Pela 360 program when you buy a new case, which comes with a free mail-in label to return your old Pela Case.
Pela’s commitment to sustainability is compelling. They have a robust sustainability strategy, they track a lot of data about their impact, and they’ve donated over $1 million dollars to a number of planet-minded organizations.
EcoBlvd bills itself as a “fashion-forward sustainable phone accessory brand.” The company uses corn-based plastic InnoMaize™, a composite of cornstarch, corn sugar, and plant fibers in its products. Its Mojave cases are made with bamboo-based plastic, called CornBo™. Plastics made of cornstarch or bamboo sound pretty good. However, proprietary blends with only partly disclosed materials bring to mind the way cosmetic companies hide a bunch of ingredients under the term “parfum.”
The company suggests that its cases will decompose in either a home or industrial compost pile. EcoBlvd offers a free shipping label to return used cases to its Roundabout Recycling program. If you send the old case back, you can also get 25% off the price of a new case. Whether EcoBlvd phone cases would truly break down in home compost is still unclear, so we recommend sending old cases to the company for processing.
We’d still like to see a bit more transparency on the materials in the bioplastic. If the company truly has listed all of them, we’d recommend they spell that out so potential customers know for sure.
A Last Resort
Regardless of the phone case you have, RECASETiFY wants to help you recycle or recover the materials for future use. CASETiFY, which sells phone cases made of recycled materials, will accept any brand phone case from customers in the U.S. and many Asian countries. You must pay for shipping an old case, or all the cases you’ve collected over the years, but CASETiFY helps offset the cost by offering a 15% discount on a new case.
Although it may take some time to read and assess the composting claims made by both companies, Pela Case and EcoBlvd offer evidence that their products can be composted to make a safe, usable soil supplement.
We recommend to manufacturers that they clearly label all compostable products as “home compostable,” “industrially compostable,” or “home or industrially compostable” to make it easy for shoppers to identify the most convenient and sustainable end-of-life option available. That’s the key to unlocking the circular economy, helping people take the first step to return a product to the Earth or make it ready for another use.