This Phone Case is a Step Toward a Waste-Free Future

Co-Founder of Pela Matt Bertulli

Today we are launching a special limited-edition ROAM phone case with our friends at Pela, makers of the world’s first eco-friendly phone case. Here Pela co-founder Matt Bertulli tells us about how their eco-friendly, biodegradable phone cases are one step toward building a future with no waste.

Take action for the oceans, buy this case now: wero.am/pela

Can you eat this phone case?
You could! It’s got zero nutritional content, but it won’t kill you. It is an internal joke. A bunch of my friends are like, “Let’s get one of our idiot friends to try, and see what happens.” I would not recommend eating it, but it would be a lot better than eating a plastic case.

What is flaxstic?
It’s bioplastic combined with flax straw. We’re using biopolymers. We acquire raw material from our suppliers, and then we mix in flax straw to get the toughness and the look that we want. These are accessible materials to any company. Flaxstic is harder to work with than traditional plastic. So, the extra cost to work with it is what companies don’t like.

What problem do you see Pela and flaxstic solving in the world?
We want to help build a future without waste. We don’t see flaxstic being the solution to the big problems out there. We just see as something we’re doing now to get us to a much bigger ambition. So, this material we’re using in the phone cases is maybe step eight out of probably thousands of steps, over the next decade, to get us to a future without waste. The phone case is a means to an end.

When we talk about it internally, we always refer to Tesla. When Elon Musk started Tesla, he started with a two-door sports car that was highly impractical. There was no way you could ever sell a ton of them to make a real difference.

But he needed to start there to prove that he could build a car, and that people want this. Then he started with a high-end sedan. Now he’s making a more moderately-priced sedan. There’s a progression to how they are developing product.

What’s the progression for Pela?
We’re starting with a phone case, but we’re looking at everything that a person like “our girl,” our millennial girl who is our top shopper, uses as she moves about her life. What she carries and wears, whether she’s in the city, running around to work, going out, or headed into nature. There’s a lot of stuff on that girl that doesn’t need to be made from the materials from which it’s currently made. There are more sensible materials.

We’ve got a good material for phone cases. It’s going to work for other products. But we’re also working on new materials that would also be what we call “environmentally sensible,” like there’s a nice end of life for them.

How do you make consumerism into a force for good? How do you make products that turn back into dirt?
— Matt Bertulli
ROAM: This Phone Case is a Step Toward a Waste-Free Future
Special edition ROAM x Pela case. Take action, buy this case now: wero.am/pela

Are you able to talk about what some of those new products or materials might be?
I can’t. I can tell you, you’ll start to see new material product from us in spring/summer of next year.
Like with the phone cases and the material we use, we’re some of the first people to be exploring how to make other products. It’s breaking a lot of new ground. What we’re trying to do is taking a little bit of time because nobody else seems to want to work on it. The biggest companies that make stuff out there, some of them are doing great things. Like Adidas, with their shoes made from highly recycled plastic, is awesome. And then, Allbirds is making shoes from merino wool and tree fiber. There are definitely companies working on alternative, more environmentally sensible materials—Patagonia obviously being the big one. They always say “Do no unnecessary harm.”

Our thing is, if you’re going to build a future without waste, how can you make products that don’t just do no unnecessary harm? How do you make consumerism into a force for good? How do you make products that turn back into dirt? We’re aggressively pursuing new materials and new products because that’s how we get to our vision of a future without waste.

It’s definitely difficult to do something new and to create something original. What do you see as the reward of persevering through that, to make it happen?
We’re looking at it in a ten-plus-year horizon. For us right now, Flaxstic feels good. It’s pretty nice to get up every day and know that what we’re doing is actually really good for the planet. We’re still a business. We still are very much trying to use business as a force for good. We think that capitalism can be better used than it has been in the past—and we’re not the only company thinking like this. We’re going to build as big a company as necessary to realize this future without waste.

ROAM: This Phone Case is a Step Toward a Waste-Free Future

Special edition ROAM x Pela case. Take action, buy this case now: wero.am/pela

Pela just did a big effort around World Oceans Day. Do you have an ocean hero?
I’m really curious to see what Richard Branson and his – the guy has got such influence, right? I think they’ve got a group now, called Ocean Unite. They want to protect, they want to preserve 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. That stuff is really fascinating me. There are people who run these organizations that we work with, like Save the Waves, Oceana, and Surfrider. They’re all on the ground, doing the work that has to be done. Those are the people that we’re trying to support. They’re the ones that actually need support, because they’re organizing and doing the dirty work.

Why are oceans such a core part to Pela’s give-back mission?
The reason we focus on the ocean is because the plastics problem is the most visible when you get to the ocean. If you’re an interior land-locked person, like I am from Ontarnio, you don’t see it as much as the person who lives on one of southern California’s beaches, or in Hawaii, or anywhere where this shit washes up in large amounts.

Then beyond that, now, it’s becoming a human health issue. Our food chain and supply chain is being affected by this. If the ocean dies, we die. It’s just not good for people. That part of it, to me, that is important work that has to happen.

There are a lot of people who are really trying to ring that bell and get people thinking and aware of it. I feel like it’s kind of this heyday of plastic awareness. It seems like it’s not too late.

What kills me is that there are a lot of people that are constantly roasting us for trying to do something. Like we’re just trying to capitalize or greenwash. The best possible thing would be if everybody on the planet stopped buying plastic phone cases. But that’s an unreasonable ask. We’re not claiming to be perfect. But we’re just trying to do better.

There are a lot of people who just don’t think that there is a problem; that climate change isn’t a thing, and that the plastic in the ocean is not really an issue. My response now is simple, like “Okay, I’ll agree with you. But why don’t we clean it up anyway? Worst case, you’re right, and we just have a nice, clean planet.” If you were sitting on the beach, playing in the sand, wouldn’t you prefer for it to be sand, instead of plastic?

And then there are the garbage gyres in the oceans. Pretty hard to argue that they aren’t problems.
They’re massive. I think one of them is the size of Texas, and another one is the size of France. This is a godawful amount of ocean that’s got garbage in it.

I don’t think a reasonable person could say that that’s not a problem. Right? To think that most of that plastic has been produced in the last 20 years, and it’s accelerating. We’re actually making more and more and more, every year. The size of Texas and France, or whatever, who cares? Just call it big.
They’re too big now. You can’t tell me they’re not going to get bigger. So, we should probably start doing something about it, so that we don’t, 50 years down the road, go “Where did the oceans go?”

Special edition ROAM x Pela case. Take action, buy this case now: wero.am/pela

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