Ocean plastic is a major problem. Samsung may use it in future phones

Samsung unveiled a new sustainability plan for phones called Galaxy for the Planet, and we have the inside scoop.

Alison DeNisco Rayome Managing Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome
3 min read
Samsung Z Fold 3

Samsung is committing to making its Galaxy products and packaging more eco-friendly. 


What if your future Galaxy phone was made of reclaimed ocean plastic? That's one possible future Samsung has in mind. The consumer electronics titan became the most recent Big Tech company to embrace a stronger pro-planet pledge, announcing on Wednesday at its Samsung Unpacked launch event that it will eliminate all single-use plastic from its smartphone packaging by 2025. 

Samsung's new sustainability platform, called Galaxy for the Planet, will focus on slashing waste from the production to the disposal of its Galaxy line of phones, tablets, watches and earbuds. The news comes the same week as a UN climate panel policy report urged policymakers to reduce emissions to slow down rapidly progressing climate change. 

Watch this: Samsung outlines sustainability initiative for Galaxy line

Along with dropping plastic packaging, Samsung plans to use recycled material in all new its mobile products by 2025, from phones to earbuds. This is where ocean plastic comes in, one possible material Samsung plans to experiment with to make future phones, Sophia Kim, Samsung's vice president of public relations of the mobile communications business, told CNET. 

"These are tangible and ethical action items for us," Kim said. "We can help our Galaxy user use more eco-friendly options and choices in their daily life." 

Another goalpost is to divert all waste from landfills, and to reach zero standby power consumption of all smartphone chargers to increase energy efficiency by 2025 as well. While the standby power consumption across its smartphone chargers is currently 20 milliwatts, Samsung wants to reduce that to below 5 milliwatts by 2025. That means your charger would be using less power when it's plugged in but not in use.

Samsung has been seeking greener products for several years, Kim said. For example, the Galaxy smartphone charger and the Galaxy Buds Pro, Galaxy Buds Live and new Galaxy Buds 2 are all made of 20% recycled materials. 

The company has also made strides towards more eco-conscious materials in packaging: Compared to the 2016 Galaxy S7, this year's Galaxy S21's packaging generates 51% less waste. Right now the only plastic in the Galaxy phone packaging is the protective cover on the device, but Samsung is working on more eco-friendly materials for this, too. 

Environmental goals across the phone industry 


Tech companies including Samsung, Apple and Microsoft have taken big strides toward sustainability in recent years.

Derek Poore/CNET

These concrete goals toward sustainability from Samsung could push the rest of the phone manufacturing industry to take similar steps -- though many are working on similar initiatives as well. 

Apple has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, which would mean every Apple device sold would have net zero climate impact by that point. It also created environmental report cards for its devices back in 2008, and since then, has slimmed its device packaging, reduced reliance on plastic in its devices, and started integrating recycled materials into its devices.

Microsoft has also pledged to become carbon negative by 2030, and is seeking to undo the greenhouse gas emissions it's sent into the Earth's atmosphere over the lifetime of the company by 2050. 

"Any one eco-friendly change or new effort can help," said John Torkelson, a professor of engineering at Northwestern University, as well as a member of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern's Program on Plastics, Ecosystems, and Public Health. "And when a large number of changes or efforts are put in place globally by any one company and related changes or efforts are also adopted by other similar companies, the effects can be enormous." 

Watch this: The Galaxy Buds 2 are Samsung's best small earbuds

While it's encouraging to see tech companies take steps to minimize the environmental impact of their products, the best ones are also helping their many suppliers become more eco-friendly and sustainable as well, Torkelson said. 

The next frontier tech manufacturers should focus on is making their products more easily repairable and upgradeable without requiring new hardware. "In the long run, it is not helpful to have high-tech devices like smartphones and laptops replaced every two to three years," Torkelson said. And we still face major challenges in terms of effectively recycling e-waste. 

Consumers, especially in younger generations, expect companies to act more environmentally-friendly, said Stephanie Choi, Samsung's senior vice president and head of marketing of the mobile communications business. 

"Protecting the planet is our business, but it's not a solo job, nor is it a competition," Choi said. "Hopefully some of the initiatives we are now embarking on will have more of our industry leaders, societies and even individuals engage and participate."

For more, check out how to recycle your old phones, laptops and batteries