Mobile phones have been very big business for years, and as we tiptoe into 2020 and a new decade that trend is unlikely to change at all – as of right now almost five billion people will own or have access to a smartphone. Industry analysts estimate that nearly one billion new smartphones are purchased every year, with the majority of users likely to upgrade their handsets within twenty-two months. That’s a hell of a lot of phones being bought and upgraded – and more often than not, with them come new phone cases. And what happens with the old cases? That’s right. Usually, they are thrown away by the tens of millions.
That’s a frightening amount of plastic going into landfill sites – usually in developing countries – and the ocean every year. Plastic is causing inordinate harm to our planet, from sea pollution to killing wildlife to destroying our health. But there are alternatives. We don’t have to wrap our smartphones in bulky plastic boxes. We don’t even need to use plastic at all, come to that. Ever thought about what can be created using recycled fishing nets, or hemp, or even melted down skateboards? Luckily for us, there are some very clever – and very environmentally-conscious – businesses out there, who are already using those aforementioned fishing nets, and more, to create some excellent alternatives to plastic phone cases.
The New Breed of Case
What was once a niche market has recently become a booming slice of the mobile phone case business, mostly due to increased awareness of the issues facing our planet and our willingness to turn to products that don’t damage the environment. Phone cases no longer have to be eternal chunks of plastic that clog our rivers and oceans. There is an ever-increasing selection of affordable cases that are just as tough as plastic yet gentle on the earth. These include brands that are biodegradable and fashioned from natural resources such as cork, sustainable wood, flax straw and even coffee beans or pressed flowers. Eco-friendly materials, including recycled plastic and other non-toxic components, are commonplace now. Production often entails processes that are environmentally sound and carbon neutral. All of these come together to create a new line of cases that are as eco-friendly as possible, meaning you can ditch your slab of plastic and do your bit to help the planet.
The Alternative Options
So it turns out plastic isn’t the be-all and end-all in terms of mobile phone cases – there are a heap of different options out there, and lots of exciting companies producing eco-friendly alternatives that we can start using if we want to help planet earth. For example:
Bamboo – used for everything from home building to food to Japanese flutes, bamboo is a multipurpose material that has been in use for hundreds of years. Now it’s been crafted into phone cases, meaning we get to use a natural, sustainable, fast-growing plant – bamboo is basically grass – to protect our prized mobile phone.
Cork – as versatile as it is robust, cork has been around for centuries and can be found in all manner of products – even a Portuguese postage stamp. Now that versatility extends to mobile phone cases – cork is impermeable yet flexible, and tough enough to withstand the roughest of day-to-day usage. Cork phone cases are frequently beautifully designed too. With its exquisite wave prints, multi-colours and slogans available amongst a raft of choices, so not only are you doing your bit for the environment you can look seriously cool with a cork case wrapped around your new smartphone.
BPA-free – BPA (or to use its full title, Bisphenol A) is a chemical compound that is used in the production of vast quantities of products central to our lives for many years. Everything from water bottles and Tupperware, for example – until research demonstrated that it might be a little bit harmful to us. Since then, many governments and companies have restricted their use or stopped using it altogether, proudly displaying BPA-Free logos on the items they produce. Lots of mobile phone cases are now BPA-Free, but still as robust and good looking as those nasty BPA plastic ones!
Recycled plastic – plastic is everywhere, but one way to reduce the creation of new chunks of it is to reuse or recycle what we’ve already got – and lots of companies and small businesses do just that. Fishing nets, skateboards, water bottles and much, much more are being repurposed, with a particular focus on marine plastic pollution. Skateboards are inherently cool, but imagine your funky new smartphone case is handcrafted from a melted down board – that’s even cooler.
Wood – strong, versatile and pretty much ubiquitous, wood is brilliant for mobile phone cases – it is eco-friendly, sturdy and looks utterly amazing when hand-carved and decorated. Lots of companies now produce fantastic wood cases sourced from sustainable forests, with sublime designs and bespoke features for the discerning smartphone user. So not only are you going to be the proud owner of a gloriously sleek cover for your mobile, you’re helping the environment – always a win-win.
Vegan leather – fashioned from a variety of sources, predominantly polyurethane but sometimes organic sources such as cork or fruit skins, vegan leather is the go-to material for designers such as Stella McCartney who refuse to use animal skin in their products. Vegan leather is as versatile as the ‘real’ thing – and the phone cases created using it are excellent. Good-looking, affordable and indistinguishable from leather, they add a layer of luxury to your smartphone.
Wheat straw fibre – wheat is a fibrous plant that is well-known as a provider of, for example, grains for cereal. Manufacturers, however, often treat the wheat straw that remains after grain production as agricultural waste – but some clever people out there have decided to use it too. Wheat straw fibre is yet another development in the mobile phone case world, and the material is fully compostable, sturdy and even gluten-free, making your new case a hugely environmentally-friendly purchase!
Flax – the fibre from flax crops has been used in the production of linen for hundreds of years. It even finds its way into everyday items such as teabags and banknotes. So using it for a phone case isn’t a big leap – and there are companies out there who have taken it. Flax straw can be found in a broad range of mobile phone cases nowadays, and the material is durable yet flexible, providing excellent protection for your smartphone.
Hemp – in use as fibre for ten thousand years and counting, hemp is adaptable, hardy and ideal for those shock-proof cases we need for our often delicate modern phones. Industrial hemp is used to manufacture all manner of products, from the clothes and shoes we wear to animal feed. Hemp phone cases are yet another eco-friendly addition to the new breed of protection, with as many designs as you would find in a range of everyday plastic cases.
Bioplastic – more sustainable than conventional plastics, bioplastics are produced from sources such as food waste, corn starch and vegetable oils. While not as eco-friendly as many of the materials on this list, they are often seen as a less harmful alternative – and your new mobile phone case could be made from them too.
Upcycled waste – in the last decade or so, upcycling has become a real ‘thing’, and phone cases are no longer immune to this eminently sensible shift towards taking something old and repurposing it for something new and often better. Anything from old bicycle inner tubes to worn tennis balls and Doritos bags have made their way into the phone case and sleeve business.
Where to Go for Your New Phone Case
Mobile phone cases that are better for the planet and just as easy on your wallet as regular plastic cases are now readily available. Most major online retailers, as well as many well-known physical stores, will stock a broad range of them. But what about the companies who are producing these cases, and who are at the vanguard of this drive towards eco-friendliness? Here we take a look at a few of the people and businesses, as well as the ethos that pushes them to create these wonderful products.
Pela – one of the major names in the eco-friendly business, Pela is the brainchild of Jeremy Lang who, while on a family holiday in 2010, realised the damage plastics were doing to our planet. From here, Pela was born and has grown into one of the larger companies determined to ‘create a waste-free future’. Compostable phones cases, zero-waste liquid screen protectors, sunglasses and more are available from Lang’s company. At the same time, its eco-partnerships and charity drives have seen it on course to achieve their goal: to keep one billion pounds of plastic from ever being made.
Speck – a subsidiary of Samsonite since 2014, Speck is a big-hitter in the protective case business (they produce cases and sleeves for everything from iPads to e-Readers to Android mobiles). The last couple of years has seen them introduce sustainable and environmentally-friendly products as its consumer base has tilted towards more eco-friendly materials and manufacturing. So it’s a big hello to locally-sourced products, low carbon footprint, and Paperfoam packaging – as well as a host of other improvements – to appeal to those of us who want to look after our planet.
Carved – the team at Carved produce achingly gorgeous phone cases out of their workshop in Elkhart, Indiana. The wood they use is sustainable and ‘responsibly harvested’, and their products are usually fantastic to look at. Some of them are hand-carved, some of them precision machine-tooled, but all are made with love and a master craftsman’s attention to detail. From their first phone case in 2011 – for the iPhone 4 – Carved’s range has grown to include a huge amount of choices and designs in wood and resin finishes, making them something to show off in their own right.
Skate4Create – based in Lithuania, this small yet ultra-hip company is owned and run by skateboarders who have transferred their love of the sport into a supremely creative endeavour. With their mission to ‘reduce waste and reuse and recycle skateboards to multifunctional pieces of art’, their catalogue includes everything from bracelets and pendants too, you guessed it, mobile phone cases. Hand-made, and with every one unique, Skate4Create’s cases are colourful must-haves whether you’re a skater or not.
Kroma – another big-hitter, Kroma offers an extensive range of mobile phone cases with some great designs. They’re robust, too, but the main selling point is that they are ‘safe for you and your family’. That means BPA-Free, as well as entirely free of any metals and chemicals that may be harmful to us. So while they’re not compostable, they’re certainly not as dangerous as your straightforward plastic phone case, which is always a good thing.