Reach in your pocket and pull out your phone. Is it nestled in plastic? If you haven’t heard of Pela phone cases, it probably is. Now ask yourself, “What’s going to happen to this case when I’m finished with?”

According to Pela, one billion plastic phone cases are produced each year and 60,000 are thrown away, perpetuating a broken system that over-produces plastic products without considering their end life.

Plastic pollution has emerged as a global crisis in part because only 9% of it has been recycled while the rest is wreaking havoc on the biosphere. This video from The Story of Stuff Project sums the plastic crisis up pretty well.

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Is Pela the Real Deal?

Pela is a brand built on sustainability known for making the world’s first 100% compostable phone cases made from “flax shive and a plant based biopolymer.” It sells phone cases for most iPhone, Samsung and Google devices.

Pela phone cases come in many colors and designs from crowd-sourced collaborations. The Canadian e-commerce company is a certified B-Corporation and a member of 1% for the Planet. Both of these partnerships require meaningful sustainability efforts.

In addition to phone cases, Pela makes plant-based AirPod cases, sunglasses, radiation protection screens, accessory bags, bracelets and liquid screen protector. It ships products in minimal packaging, usually a kraft paper envelope, which is also compostable.

Do Pela Phone Cases Work?

A Pela phone case made with plants.
Photo by the author.

I ordered a Green Eco-Friendly case for my iPhone 6 (yes, I’m a few generations behind) and it arrived within a week in a kraft paper envelope.

Right away I noticed the “Made with Plants” stamp right where my old case said “Made in China.” The case fits snugly on my phone, all the buttons press easily, and the dark green finish screams “I like being in the woods!”

As for functionality, the most noticeable difference is tactile. Instead of the smooth, glossy plastic finish that is slowly covering every inch of the planet, my Pela case has the slightest bit of texture and grip. It would have even more if I had sprung from one of the etched Limited Edition cases.

I’ve given my phone a few test drops from around three feet with good results. Pela, however, takes it several steps further in this YouTube video.

Are Pela Phone Cases Affordable?

Pela provides a wide range of colors and design all with the same sustainable features. They are constantly coming out with new designs and features. Recently, Pela introduced iPhone cases with credit card pockets.

Pela Phone cases with shark and coral reef designs
Photo courtesy of Pela.

As for price, Pela cases cost between $39.95 and $59.95 depending on the edition, putting them in the middle of the pack for phone cases.

Part of the cost goes to 1% for the Planet, to which Pela donated over 95 thousand dollars in 2018. However, it’s more than possible to buy at a discount. Pro tip: if you subscribe to Pela’s weekly newsletter they’ll send you a code for 15% off your first purchase.

Based on a Google search, leather and high-performance iPhone cases can run well over $80, even into the hundreds. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to find serviceable cases for around $20.

However, I’ve yet to come across products that even come close to Pela’s in terms of sustainability.

For example, my old case was an Incipio DualPro, which currently costs $29.99 for the iPhone 11 model at Best Buy. Given the age of and near-new condition of my outdated phone, the case served me well; although the hard-plastic outer shell has a few chips and scratches. The case is made of a Plextonium polycarbonate outer shell and a dLAST TPE inner core. In other words, it’s a whole mess of petroleum-based plastic with no suitable end life. It isn’t marked recyclable, so I don’t feel right throwing it in my recycle bin. It also has chips, scratches and a lot of mileage, so it has little value even as a donation.

The sad truth is that it’s moments away from entering the waste stream. Oh wait, Pela has a Tradesies program through which they recycle old plastic phone cases!

a sparkly plastic phone case
Image source.

And then, there’s this monstrosity:

For the same price as Pela’s most expensive case ($60), this 800-crystal sparkle-bomb (made with “genuine crystals”) can turn your iPhone 11 into a disco ball before laying to rest in a landfill or riding up and down the food chain as micro plastic, that is.

That’s the problem with plastic – there is just no suitable end life. Recycling, even at its best, only delays the inevitable and gives consumers a false sense of security. All plastic is going to break down and enter the ecosystem as microplastic at some point. The only solution is to use substances that actually BELONG in the biosphere. That’s why we subscribe to the “buy as if nothing gets recycled” philosophy and find it so refreshing when the sustainable option holds up to its counterpoints in price and functionality.

The bottom line: Pela cases hold their own at the $40-$60 price point based on style and functionality alone. However, they punch way above their weight-class considering their sustainability efforts. This product fills a much-needed void as the premier plastic-free phone case. I believe it’s only a matter of time before the copycats come running in. Just remember who was first.

Feature photo courtesy of Pela.