An estimated 11.2 billion tons of solid waste is produced globally every year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Waste from electrical and electronic equipment has become one of the fastest-growing challenges due to the many new and complex hazardous substances found in the products. This realization has urged many tech companies to rethink its approach in producing consumer-based hardware. As a result, Microsoft committed to “zero waste” goals by 2030 in August 2020 and recently introduced the Ocean Plastic Mouse, a wireless mouse made from plastic waste recovered from oceans and waterways.
“We’ve heard about ocean plastics for a long time, and as Microsoft took on a waste initiative, we started to look at well, where are some of the areas that we can continue to innovate in this space?” said Microsoft Principal Designer Elliot Hsu in a video breaking down the new mouse. The result was an approach that didn’t introduce a brand new product or line that emphasizes sustainable innovation, but it was a look into how Microsoft can update what it’s already doing.
“A lot of the products that are being produced by Microsoft are primarily made of plastic,” said Microsoft Senior Environmental Compliance Manager Corinne Holmes. “We decided let’s use an existing mouse that’s already out in the marketplace, but we could replace the materials and make something special out of that,” added Microsoft Senior Designer Patrick Gaule.
It’s an approach that shows a more holistic adoption across existing product offerings similar to what we’ve recently seen with Herman Miller’s transition to ocean-bound plastic for its iconic Aeron chair, and Crocs using bio-based material for all footwear that uses its signature Croslite material.
What the company deems a “small step forward in Microsoft’s sustainability journey,” the eco-friendly mouse features a shell created from 20% recycled ocean plastic and is considered the first consumer electronic product that uses reclaimed ocean plastic as its base material. Similar to other projects and initiatives that utilize ocean-bound plastic, the material is collected, cleaned, and processed into recyclable resin pellets that are then blended into the materials development process to create the final shell.
The location of where the plastic is collected is not confirmed, but the company does mention that it was a joint effort with partners outside of the tech industry to reach the result of the Ocean Plastic Mouse. “We worked with partners [where] this was their expertise,” said Holmes. “Then we learned a lot about materials, material science, and some of the innovations that are happening within the plastic recycling industry.”
As a way to help further prevent the growing buildup of ocean-bound plastic, the team behind the new mouse also developed the packaging to be 100% recyclable. The mouse comes in a plastic free box that is made with recycled wood pulp and sugarcane natural fibers. “The current packaging that we had was single-use plastic,” said Gaule. “The interesting thing about that is that’s what we were taking out of the ocean. We knew the packaging should be different.”
The introduction of the Ocean Plastic Mouse surely is a small step for the global tech company, but it begs the question for what’s next? Microsoft currently provides a free mail-in recycling program for old mouses and other products in many countries, a great tradeoff for those interested in the new Earth-friendly computer accessory. The company is also set to eliminate all single-use plastic packaging by 2025, a goal reflected in the new mouse. Additionally, it is introducing Microsoft Circular Centers within company campuses to process e-waste onsite as opposed to being sent to landfills.
In terms of its work in reclaiming ocean plastic for consumer product use, Microsoft’s hope is to help feed competition for the greater good of sustainability. “The end goal from the get go was that this can’t be a proprietary technology. We want this to be available to everyone,” said Hsu. “In order to really meet the real sustainability goals that we need to as a world, we’ve got to share these innovations.”
In other materials news, Patagonia has announced a new partnership with plant-based material manufacturer Natural Fiber Welding.