The war against design’s longtime favorite material is heating up. Consumer demand for plastic alternatives is growing. More corporations are choosing to cut plastic from their packaging, with even giants like Nestlé making an effort. Now one of the world’s largest industrial conglomerates joining them: Samsung.
This week, the company announced that in the first half of this year it’s getting rid of plastic packaging. In a news release, it explained that common packaging materials, like the plastic bags used to wrap TVs and other home appliances, will be replaced by recycled plastic waste and bioplastics made from starch and sugar cane. For phones, “Samsung will replace the plastic used for holder trays with pulp molds, and bags wrapping accessories with eco-friendly materials,” the company announced. “Samsung will also alter the phone charger design, swapping the glossy exterior with a matte finish and eliminating plastic protection films, reducing the use of plastics.” Within the next two years, it added, paper boxes and manuals will come from sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Scheme, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
While we’ve known that plastic is terrible for the environment for years, recent science seems to have driven that truth home. Last October, scientists announced they had found micro-plastics in human poop for the first time. It’s only logical: Water everywhere is contaminated with micro-plastics, and life on Earth depends on that water. Plastic was bound to find its way into our bodies. But the increasing public awareness of that truth has prompted a push from governments and companies, from fashion to food, to ditch plastic. A fledgling group of home-goods companies are capitalizing on the shift, aiming to replace the $3 billion business of straws, storage bags, and containers.
For the tech industry, the tide began to turn on plastic packaging more than a decade ago. After Greenpeace declared war on Apple over its use of hazardous chemicals in its products, Steve Jobs struck back. Eventually both parties signed an armistice and Jobs and his team began the process of replacing some of the dangerous manufacturing materials. But it wasn’t until 2017 that Apple got serious about its packaging and single-use plastic in the iPhone, one of the world’s most popular products. A whole decade after its introduction, Apple announced it would cut down 84% of the plastic packaging used in iPhones, and in 2018, the Cupertino company cut out any remaining plastic with the exception of the transparent outer film. The box your iPhone comes in is now made with recycled bamboo, sugar cane, paper, and other biodegradable materials.
Other companies, like Microsoft, have followed in Cupertino’s footsteps. But Samsung’s move is perhaps the most important of them all. Not only is the Korean electronics and appliances company one of the largest in the world and the number one manufacturer of phones globally, it’s considered the company to beat by other electronics manufacturers who, hopefully, will follow its lead. What’s more, Samsung makes far more than just phones and tablets–it also makes a huge range of home appliances, like washing machines and fridges.
The decision to ditch plastic is great news–for once, copying Apple is a good move for everyone involved. And yes, of course this is a deft marketing decision, too. But who cares? The only thing that matters is that it’s happening.