Microsoft Corp. has unveiled its first consumer electronic product incorporating recycled ocean-bound plastic: the Ocean Plastic Mouse.
With a shell made of 20 percent recycled ocean plastic, the new mouse represents a focus on sustainability and the need to change the way materials are sourced, rather than technical innovations, Microsoft said during its Surface event Sept. 22. It is also a step forward for the company toward fulfilling its August 2020 pledge to pursue a goal of zero waste operations by 2030 and to eliminate the use of single-use plastics in packaging by 2025.
The resin used to create the shell of the new mouse was purpose-developed in collaboration with Saudi Arabia-based materials company Sabic. The polycarbonate/PET Xenoy compound based on recycled ocean plastic had to meet the specifications and stringent quality standards demanded by Microsoft.
Ocean plastic is defined as plastic that has been certified by a third party as recovered from any ocean or ocean-feeding waterways, or plastics washed ashore from these locations. Ocean plastic differs from ocean-bound plastic in that ocean-bound plastic is recovered from ocean-feeding waterways, shorelines and inland areas within a 50-kilometer (31-mile) radius of the ocean.
In a Sept. 24 telephone interview, Mahari Tjahjadi, global director of electrical and electronics, and Frank Kuijpers, general manager of corporate sustainability, both from Sabic, told Sustainable Plastics that in this case, the ocean plastics were sourced from partners Sabic is collaborating with in Asia.
"The Ocean Plastic Mouse is mechanically recycled, and we are exploring other TruCircle solutions with them," Tjahjadi said.
Formulating with ocean plastic proved to be a challenge. Due to exposure to sunlight and water, the plastic loses many of its original properties and therefore a key issue is consistency, he added. Microsoft began this project with an objective of creating a plastic resin made from at least 10 percent recycled ocean plastic. It then took several rounds of reformulation before a final version was achieved.
"We had to be sure that the batch-to-batch variation was still within our ability to be able to use it in our formulation. And then we had to assess what the maximum percentage was that we could use in our formulation with some measure of confidence. That turned out to be 20 percent in this case, so we were able to exceed Microsoft's initial goal," Kuijpers said.
"But all these studies needed to be done upfront before we could put them into some kind of specs," Kuijpers added. "It is the first resin we have developed based on ocean plastic."
The end product now contains 20 percent recycled ocean plastic by weight in its external casing. Tjahjadi said at this point, the Xenoy resin used isn't recyclable, but Sabic is working with Microsoft to close the loop on other applications.
The new Xenoy grade joins Sabic's portfolio of TruCircle sustainable materials. This portfolio spans a range of products and services, including design for recyclability, mechanically recycled products, certified circular products from feedstock recycling of used plastic, certified renewables products from bio-based feedstock and closed-loop initiatives to recycle plastic back into high-quality applications.
And, while this particular formulation is reserved for the new mouse, "within the design space of the formulation there are possibilities for other applications," Tjahjadi said.
The 20 percent ocean plastic content of the formulation was PET.
The project, emphasized both Kuijpers and Tjahjadi, has been a door opener. Already, other projects are being discussed, although it will take time before these mature into reality.
"Chemical recycling, mechanical recycling, ocean plastic, ocean-bound plastics are now all different options that we can put on the table for the different kinds of targets that they have in mind," Kuijpers said.
This project has also provided a blueprint to demonstrate to the broader industry sector that, with good collaboration between the partners in the value chain, recycling and reusing plastic waste recovered from the ocean, ocean-feeding waterways or shorelines, is achievable.
The Ocean Plastic Mouse is now available for pre-order in the U.S. and Canada and will be available to purchase in most worldwide markets on Oct. 10.