Sprint and Samsung on Thursday made their claim for the tag-team title of purveyors of the greenest cellphone in the United States – the $50 Reclaim, 80 percent recylable and 40 percent encased in plastic made from plants that were grown in the last million years.
That isn't the record for bioplastic in cellphones, however. In Japan, electronics company NEC and plastics company Unitika made a phone with a 90 percent bioplastic cover for wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo in 2006, though only as a limited edition.
Then there's the packaging Sprint and Samsung will use to ship the phones, made of 70 percent recycled material. Similar switches are being made by many of their consumer electronics competitors, of course.
And there's the virtual manual to replace the often-wasted paper versions – an idea also being implemented by Sony Ericsson (see Sony Ericsson Goes Green With Phones, Eliminates Manual).
And the $50 price tag is after about $80 in rebates.
Still, the Reclaim is certainly another step in the greening of consumer electronics, from factory to recycling bin.
Sprint and Samsung said the new phone would go on sale Aug. 16, along with an Energy Star-approved charger that's about 12 times more efficient than standard models.
It will be sold in new stores that Sprint pledged would have efficient lighting and water systems that met LEED design standards, as well as displays encouraging people to buy green-labeled products.
The Nature Conservancy's Adopt an Acre program will get $2 from each sale. The phone will come with a link that takes you right to Discovery Channel applications with guides for green living.
And when it's discarded, Sprint can add it to the 35 percent of its phones that it says it is now recycling, a percentage it wants to bring to 90 percent by 2017.
The phone is also free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates, and "nearly free" of brominated flame retardants (BFR), the companies said – some of the chemicals that make electronic waste a closely watched environmental hazard (see Green Light post).
Sprint is also pledging to cut its paper use by 30 percent over the next five years and set up environmental design rules for upcoming products.
As for Samsung, it plans to invest $4.3 billion in "eco-management initiatives," and has promised a 50 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions, and an 84 percent cut in indirect emissions related to its products, by 2013.
The Reclaim's 40-percent, corn-based bioplastic cover may get some attention from competitors interested in seeing how it holds up. While several companies are experimenting, few have taken a big plunge into bioplastics. Sony has held off for the most part, citing reliability concerns.
Overall, bioplastics make up only about 5 percent of the global plastics market, and is used almost entirely for disposable items like food and beverage containers, BusinessWeek reported.
Bioplastic also costs more than its petroleum equivalent, although high oil prices can shift that equation (see Green Light post).