Samsung has announced the latest model in its lineup of “eco-phones” — one of the dozens of new electronics products from manufacturers striving to be green. Samsung says the new phone is made in ways that cut down on the use of environmentally harmful materials and is packaged in recycled materials. But what really makes this model different is that its case is made of bioplastic — with materials extracted from corn.
The electronics industry has been a major polluter, from the manufacturing end to the landfill. The dizzying pace at which consumer electronics become obsolete (What, you’re still using that old phone?) compounds the problem. And increasingly rich countries are offloading the disposing, and often the incinerating, of phones and computers to poorer countries.
Unfortunately Samsung’s new cellphone relies on a flawed equation: corn equals green. It is really time to throw out this formula for good. Bioplastic derived from corn requires special handling in recycling, and the difficulty of those processes makes them energy inefficient.
Bioplastic also creates another market for corn — a much smaller market than the ethanol market, but growing nonetheless. New industrial demands for corn are driving up world food prices and are increasing the pressure to convert more nonagricultural land to corn production.
The truly green solution for electronics makers is to close the loop between manufacturing and recycling: reusing the plastics we so quickly and happily toss away to make new cellphones.