Samsung to remove all virgin plastic from consumer-facing packaging

South Korean technology firm Samsung has pledged to phase out all virgin plastic components from its consumer-facing packaging lines within the first half of 2019.

Posting an update to its sustainability policy on Sunday (27 January), the company said it would “start making steps” to remove plastic packaging from its products and accessories – which range from tablets and mobile phones to larger home appliances like fridges and washing machines – with immediate effect.

The changes, which will see virgin plastic components replaced with bio-plastic, paper or other plant-based alternatives, will cover all of Samsung’s global markets.

Two of the first switches will be the replacement of holder trays in mobile phone, tablet and smartwatch boxes with pulp mould, and the replacement of plastic film used for small items with a plant-based alternative.

As for larger products, protective plastic bags will be replaced with bio-plastic or post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic alternatives in the coming months. Such changes may come at a cost to the company, Samsung confirmed in a statement.

“Samsung Electronics is stepping up in addressing society’s environmental issues such as resource depletion and plastic wastes,” Samsung’s global head of customer satisfaction Gyeong-bin Jeon said.

“We are committed to recycling resources and minimizing pollution coming from our products - we will adopt more environmentally sustainable materials even if it means an increase in cost.”

The move, which forms part of Samsung’s circular economy strategy, will also see the company redesign its range of phone and tablet chargers. By the end of June, it will have swapped the glossy exterior for a matte finish, reducing the amount of plastic in the product and negating the need for a protective plastic film.

Unintended consequences

To ensure its switch to paper and bio-based packaging does not have any unintended negative impacts on the environment, Samsung has committed to only using wood and pulp sourced under global certification initiatives like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Scheme and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

This requirement will apply to all packaging – both consumer-facing and internal – as well as product manuals. Samsung is currently targeting 100% sustainably-sourced wood, paper and pulp by 2020 as part of its commitment to become a “circular” company by 2030.

Plastic action

 The move from Samsung comes at a time when the global technology sector is increasingly moving to reduce its plastics footprint in a two-fold way, with individual firms pledging to reduce their own plastic use as collaborative initiatives develop new innovations to help combat the global plastics pollution crisis

In 2017, Dell became the first technology firm to help develop a commercial-scale supply chain for ocean-bound plastics, before they seep into waterways. Founded in partnership with automotive giant General Motors and flooring firm Interface, its NextWave Plastics initiative aims to divert three million pounds of plastic from entering the oceans.

Since its launch, the scheme has received the support of furniture retailer Ikea and fellow technology company HP, which uses ocean-bound plastic bottles to produce some of its ink cartridge lines. To date, HP has upcycled more than 12 million bottles. 

Elsewhere, Apple recently unveiled what it claims is its “greenest Mac ever”. The laptop, which has half the carbon footprint of its predecessor, is made from a custom alloy of 100% recycled aluminium and features PCR-plastic keys and a 100% recycled tin motherboard.

Software firms, meanwhile, are continually developing and launching innovative technologies that could help businesses and nations minimise their plastic footprint. SAP UKI is set to collect live data from supply chains as part of a "Plastics Cloud" pilot aimed at improving recycling, while other firms have turned to blockchain to develop plastic offsetting schemes. Such schemes enable companies to purchase credits that support global projects that tackle plastic pollution.

Sarah George



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