A collaboration that clicked

Features - Product Pull-Through

SABIC and Microsoft’s partnership yielded a computer mouse made from 20 percent recycled ocean plastic.

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February 23, 2022

Photos courtesy of Microsoft

What happens when a multinational chemical and plastics manufacturer and a multinational technology corporation collaborate to address the issues of ocean plastics and sustainability? The Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse is introduced.

The mouse debuted in the fall of 2021. Microsoft calls the product, the exterior shell of which contains 20 percent mechanically recycled ocean plastic, a “small step forward in [its] larger sustainability journey.”

Mahari Tjahjadi, Electrical and Electronic Solutions segment leader at SABIC, who is based in Shanghai for the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based petrochemical company, says Microsoft was interested in using ocean plastics in the mouse. He adds that Microsoft liked the immediate impact of recovering plastic from the ocean for this first effort, but the company also is looking at using ocean-bound plastics as well as traditional postconsumer recycled plastics in its products.

The shell of this Microsoft mouse is made with SABIC’s Xenoy PC/PET (polycarbonate/polyethylene terephthalate) resin that contains 20 percent recycled ocean plastics.

SABIC says the ocean plastic used in the Microsoft mouse has been certified by a third party as recovered from oceans, ocean-feeding waterways or where it washed ashore from these locations.

Try and try again

According to Microsoft, as the project began in late 2019, the company reached out to several suppliers about creating the recycled-content resin to be used in the mouse. The project’s complexity, which included developing the supply chain to collect, clean and transport this ocean plastic for recycling, proved too challenging for some suppliers. And then there was SABIC.

According to SABIC, Microsoft began the project with the objective of creating plastic using at least 10 percent mechanically recycled ocean plastic as part of its commitment to achieve zero waste by 2030. The Microsoft design team collaborated with technologists at SABIC to provide feedback on prototypes made with the new resin. This effort resulted in several rounds of reformulation prior to arriving at a final version that exceeded Microsoft’s initial goal to instead contain 20 percent recycled ocean plastic in the form of PET by weight in its external casing, or shell. Microsoft says this is the equivalent of half of a 16-ounce water bottle.

The mouse could not be made solely from PET because it would not meet Microsoft’s mechanical and reliability specifications. SABIC’s Xenoy resins combine PC with a semicrystalline resin, such as PET, Tjahjadi explains. Resins in the Xenoy line are suitable for use in applications that require chemical resistance, such as health care, automotive and home appliances in addition to personal electronics.

SABIC is providing the new Xenoy resin that contains 20 percent ocean plastic to Microsoft as part of its Trucircle portfolio and services. Based on a resin grade comprised of 20 percent recycled content, for every 1,000 tons of product containing recycled ocean-plastic Xenoy PC/PET compound, an equivalent of 24 million single-use 0.5-liter PET water bottles is removed from the ocean, ocean-feeding waterways or ocean-adjacent shores, SABIC says.

The need for consistency

Tjahjadi says SABIC needed to ensure that suppliers of the ocean plastic were able to provide batch-to-batch consistency in the volume that the project necessitates. “Consistency is critical,” he adds, and SABIC had to put in “quite a bit of an effort” to ensure this.

The company’s suppliers of the ocean plastics are based in Asian countries, he says, and SABIC is producing the plastic for the mouse in China.

With the project, Tjahjadi says, SABIC and Microsoft wanted to optimize the amount of recycled content in the mouse while consistently achieving the properties required in the application.

Frank Kuijpers, SABIC general manager of Corporate Sustainability, says, “With the application and volumes associated with that, [mechanical recycling] seemed to be an ideal combination.”

“We found a sweet spot where we can do this via mechanical recycling,” Tjahjadi adds.

A blueprint for what’s possible

SABIC says its project with Microsoft provides a blueprint to demonstrate to the broader industry sector that recycling and reusing ocean plastics is achievable when value chain partners work together using their knowledge and expertise.

Abdullah Al-Otaibi, ETP (Engineering Thermoplastics) & Market Solution general manager at SABIC, says, “Our collaboration with Microsoft represents an exciting development in recycling and reusing ocean plastic to create high-quality consumer electronic products that meet Microsoft’s high-performance expectations while also playing a role in cleaning up the world’s oceans.”

Kuijpers says, “This addition to our Trucircle portfolio is another demonstration of SABIC’s collaboration with the value chain to help create new value from used plastics. By creating more sustainable materials and forging new collaborations, we are setting an example for the industry in how we can transform difficult-to-recycle materials such as ocean plastic into innovative products that can meet the high-quality demands of our customers.”

“As part of our commitment to the reduction of waste, we set out to prove the viability of recycled ocean plastic as a material for use in consumer electronics,” says Donna Warton, vice president of Supply Chain and Sustainability at Microsoft, Redmond, Washington. “The Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse, with an outer shell made with 20 percent recycled ocean plastic, is the first consumer electronics product made with this Xenoy resin. We are proud of the collaboration with SABIC that created this new resin from a challenging material that would otherwise remain in the ocean as waste. We hope that this first step on recycled ocean plastic will spur further action in our industry and are excited for customers to be able to experience the product.”

Tjahjadi says Microsoft is exploring other projects with SABIC, including those that use chemically recycled plastics.

The Microsoft collaboration builds on SABIC’s announcement in April of last year that it developed recycled-content resins made from ocean-bound plastics. These ocean and ocean-bound materials form part of SABIC’s Trucircle portfolio of products and services. The Trucircle portfolio includes design for recyclability, mechanically recycled products, certified circular products from recycling, certified renewables products from bio-based feedstock and closed-loop initiatives to recycle plastic back into high-quality applications and help prevent valuable used plastics from becoming waste.

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted by email at dtoto@gie.net.