My current phone case, an Otterbox Symmetry that I’ve had for three years, has recently started to wear to the point that it’s no longer protecting my phone. The Otterbox case is made of polycarbonate with synthetic rubber edging. As a functional product, I’ve been really happy with it, however the rubber has now worn away in some places and is starting to split in others. My phone is a necessity for my job so I figured I better get the case fixed before my phone gets damaged (I drop my phone a lot!)
The old me would have just immediately ordered another Otterbox because functionally it’s a great case. However, with my focus on sustainable purchasing, I decided to do a bit more research.
Firstly I looked to see if I could get the existing case fixed by replacing the rubber edging that had worn away. I couldn’t find anywhere that provided that service and Otterbox’s warranty doesn’t cover ‘normal wear and tear’. So, faced with the prospect of buying a new case, I then went and looked on Otterbox’s site to see what they say about sustainability. The answer is…not much. At the time of writing, their statement basically says “the environment is important and we’re currently looking at ways to be better”. That’s it.
I wanted something more.
I searched online for phone cases that have been manufactured sustainably. I found there are lots to choose from; in particular, cases that are made of recycled materials and/or biodegradable.
The latter makes a lot of sense. Personally, I try to resist the whole ‘upgrade your phone treadmill’ but even then I typically end up having to get a new phone every three to four years. That usually involves having to buy a new case to fit the form-factor of the new phone.
A redundant Otterbox polycarbonate case ending up in a landfill is going to be there for a long, long time. Like, basically forever. Multiply that by the three billion people on the planet who own phones and the irresponsible way that plastic can be both manufactured and disposed of, we’re generating and then dumping tons of harmful plastic just to protect our beloved devices. So a bio-degradable case, if it could adequately protect my phone, sounded like a much better option.
Having read a few online reviews, I decided to buy this bio-degradable case from Wild. I got it online for £14 from Wearth London, a site that partners with over 150 independent UK brands that make contemporary eco-friendly and ethical products.
The case was shipped quickly and with minimal packaging which is obviously good. The Wild cases for my iPhone 8 were available in three colours. The black version was out of stock so I opted for this Natural White colour. The case is made with PBAT bioplastics and bamboo fibres and I took an instant like to it. It had a textured feel to it and reminded me of a bar of natural soap! I definitely felt like I was holding something more natural than my previous case. The Wild website described how PBAT is truly biodegradable as opposed to other materials that only break down to tiny microplastics.
All good so far. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the case wasn’t really as protective as my old Otterbox case. The case wasn’t soft, but it had a lot less rigidity than the Otterbox and seemed quite thin. While I liked the look, feel and biodegradability (is that a word?), if it wasn’t going to protect my phone in a drop then it wasn’t right; having to replace my phone would have a bigger environmental impact than I was gaining by using a biodegradable product.
I found this eplanita case on Amazon. It’s made of wheat straw and recyclable TPU and despite the relatively low price, it had some good reviews particularly in relation to protecting the phone.
It arrived in what was marked as recycled cardboard. All good, but on opening the package I was immediately put off by the colour. It wasn’t the vibrant khaki colour shown in the product photos, it was a little on the dull side.
That wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker, but when I inspected the case it seemed to offer less protection again. It was super-soft, like a silicon case, with thinner edges. It was nice and ‘grippy’, so partially solved the problem of handling the mirror-like iPhone, but I drop my phone regularly and just wasn’t convinced that this was going to protect my phone at all. I may of course be wrong and some reviewers really rate it, but I can’t afford to do my own drop tests!
At this point, I concluded I wasn’t being fair in trying to compare the Wild and eplanita cases, at £14 and £9 respectively, with the Otterbox case that costs £20. I wondered whether there was a more premium case that might offer more protection but still in a sustainable format.
My internet searching showed me that Pela is the ‘big’ brand in sustainable cases. The brand is heavily focused on sustainability; the cases are made from “Flaxstic®, which is comprised of compostable bioplastic elastomer and flax straw materials.”. Like the other cases, they’re biodegradable so in that respect a much better conscious purchase than the Otterbox.
The Pela cases are a lot more expensive, £20 to £30. I figured if I was going to spend that, then I really needed to know that the case was going to protect my phone. I was getting concerned that my carbon footprint for ordering multiple cases was getting out of hand and negating the whole purpose of looking for a more sustainable case!
I decided to look at some reviews of the Pela case and ended up watching this video. I got a sense from the outset of the video that the guy had a downer on the product. Nonetheless, I was interested in the drop-test.
The guy in the video demonstrated that the case didn’t adequately protect the phone in a drop and then went on to express his feeling that the environmental goals of the pela case were wasted…that ‘the world is on fire and they’re trying to solve it with a glass of water’. He expressed an opinion that consumers concerned about the environment should slow down their purchase of phones because it was in the manufacture of the technology that the real sustainability issues rest.
“You know what? Maybe he’s right” I thought to myself. Tired of how long this whole phone case purchase was now taking, I put a new Otterbox case in my Amazon basket and went to bed.
I woke up the next morning and immediately thought “F***k this!”
I hate those type of arguments against sustainable lifestyle changes:
“It’s a waste of time”
“The environmental issues are too big for you to fix”
“It’s the government’s fault”
“They need to go after the big corporations, they’re the ones destroying the planet”
In other words, it’s someone else’s issue to fix.
Well, the fact is, I have little influence over what the government, big corporations or anyone else does. What I can influence is my own behaviour. Regardless of whether a Pela case adequately protects my phone or not, by spending my money there, rather than with Otterbox, I’m making a conscious decision about the type of manufacturing and distribution I want to encourage.
Making sustainable decisions isn’t always ‘like for like’ in terms of convenience; you have to expect some kind of compromise…whether it’s price, functionality, fashion, availability, time…you’re making a compromise for the bigger picture. In this case, I’ll just have to be more careful not to drop my phone as often.
So I removed the Otterbox case from my Amazon basket (luckily I hadn’t ordered it yet) and bought this black Pela case instead. When it arrived I found it to be a soft case, much softer than the Wild case, but with thicker edges. It has a more rubber-like feel than the other cases. I get the sense that I could drop my phone and it would be protected.
Time and a few accidents will tell if I’m right, but for now I’m sticking with it.
Update: After this post was published, Wild Case sent me the following message:
Thoroughly enjoyed reading your review @fifty.somethingman and thank you for the feedback! We have listened to our customers feedback and we are currently working on a slightly thicker, softer case which should make the phone more protected!