Unboxing electronics is such a pleasant activity that whole sections of YouTube are dedicated to the subject, but the environmental repercussions of all those molded plastic trays, shrink wrap, and fiddly plastic cable ties can be higher than you think. Odds are, you're just going to throw it all away or toss it in your closet, making reuse unlikely. To offset all that waste, Samsung Electronics has decided to start replacing plastic in its packaging with more sustainable materials, like paper and recycled or bioengineered plastics.

More specific plans include replacing plastic bags protecting appliances and TVs with bags based on recycled and bioplastic materials, and switching to only using paper fiber materials certified by select forestry sustainability groups by 2020.

When it comes to the electronics we most care about — like phones, tablets, and wearables — Samsung plans on swapping the typical plastic trays for pulp molds, and accessory bags will use new but undefined "eco-friendly" materials. The company's chargers will also be matte in the future, eliminating the plastic film required to protect them during transport. A new product packaging "task force" was also assembled for further development in new designs and the required logistics behind them.

The company aims to have used 50 thousand tons of recycled plastic and have collected a cumulative 7.5 million tons of "discarded products" by 2030.

This change may have the unintended side-effect of increased prices, though. Samsung's Gyeong-bin Jeon, head of the company's Global Customer Satisfaction Center (whatever that is), was quoted in the press release as saying: "We are committed to recycling resources and minimizing pollution coming from our products. We will adopt more environmentally sustainable materials even if it means an increase in cost."

While I doubt the move from plastic to paper trays will be responsible for any bump in the Galaxy S10's price over the S9, if costs increase, they could be passed on to the customer. It's a small price to pay to offset the impact of our insatiable hunger for luxury electronics goods, though. As one of the largest handset manufacturers by shipping volume (and one of the biggest electronics conglomerates in the world) Samsung's newfound mindfulness will likely make a significant impact on how many of our limited resources are wasted on packaging.

Press Release

Samsung Electronics to Replace Plastic Packaging with Sustainable Materials
Korea on January 27, 2019
Under the company’s sustainability policy, Samsung plans to minimize and replace packaging with environmentally sustainable materials Samsung Electronics announced today that the company will start taking steps this year to replace plastic packaging materials with paper and other environmentally sustainable elements.

From the first half of 2019, the packaging used currently for Samsung’s products and accessories – ranging from mobile phones and tablets to home appliances – will be substituted with environmentally sustainable materials like recycled/bio-based plastics and paper.

To revamp product packaging, Samsung Electronics has formed a task force involving design and development, purchasing, marketing and quality control for innovative packaging ideas.

For mobile phone, tablet and wearable products, Samsung will replace the plastic used for holder trays with pulp molds, and bags wrapping accessories with eco-friendly materials. Samsung will also alter the phone charger design, swapping the glossy exterior with a matte finish and eliminating plastic protection films, reducing the use of plastics.

The plastic bags used to protect the surface of home appliances such as TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners and washing machines as well as other kitchen appliances will also be replaced with bags containing recycled materials and bioplastics, which are respectively made from plastic wastes and non-fossil fuel materials like starch or sugar cane.

Regarding paper, Samsung will only use fiber materials certified by global environmental organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Scheme and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative for packaging and manuals by 2020.

“Samsung Electronics is stepping up in addressing society’s environmental issues such as resource depletion and plastic wastes,” said Gyeong-bin Jeon, head of Samsung’s Global Customer Satisfaction Center. “We are committed to recycling resources and minimizing pollution coming from our products. We will adopt more environmentally sustainable materials even if it means an increase in cost.”

Under the company’s circular economy policy, Samsung Electronics has set a mid-term implementation plan to only use paper packaging materials certified by forestry initiatives by next year. By 2030, Samsung aims to use 500 thousand tons of recycled plastics and collect 7.5 million tons of discarded products (both cumulative from 2009).