Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse overcomes technical challenges in using ‘dirty’ materials

Irene Dong

Irene Dong

Microsoft has revealed a new Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse – part of the company’s efforts to improve the sustainability of its products.

Concerned by the environmental impact of plastic waste, the Microsoft team is working to introduce sustainable elements into the company’s products without compromising technological function.

“The team wondered, why couldn’t we make a resin out of plastic in the ocean and make a dent there?” said Patrick Gaule, senior designer on the Windows & Devices design team. “We started formalising this idea. What type of resin? What kind of product? We came up with a plan to look into it. We were sure it was going to be very hard. We weren’t sure it was going to work.”

Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse overcomes technical challenges in using 'dirty' materials

Aiming to achieve zero waste by 2030, Microsoft uses ocean plastic to make the mouse’s external shell. According to the company, products made from ocean-bound plastic are on the rise in the market and the team decided to use ocean plastic – which is recovered from any ocean or ocean-feeding waterways, or where it washed ashore from those locations – to create the resin.

“We wanted to do something that’s different,” said Corinne Holmes, director of environmental compliance, Windows & Devices. “I don’t want the clean stuff. We wanted to push the bar. This plastic wasn’t from a collection bin sitting on the beach. It was recovered out of a river. It’s dirty. It was sitting there for six months, not three weeks.”

Ocean plastic has raised both different and difficult issues for the Microsoft team since the material – mainly plastic bottles – has started to degrade when it meets the right conditions. The team has changed the target from making 100-per-cent recycled PET resin to creating a combination of PET and polycarbonate (PC) plastic.

Due to the complexity of the Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse project, the company collaborated with chemical company SABIC to finish the project and deliver to customers an eco-friendly electronic product.

“They really bought into the whole project,” explained Gaule. “They went out and took on the challenge to find the stock of ocean plastic. They were able to get their leadership to buy in and that shows the power of ideas. It’s about more than business. It’s about being a good global citizen.”

Chemical resistance is one of the hardest issues during the process. To let customers experience sustainable and quality product, both SABIC and Microsoft has tried to figure many ways from sourcing materials to transforming into the final result.

“One challenge was what we called the ‘chain of custody,’ ”, said Mahari Tjahjadi, director of electrical and electronics of SABIC. “How do you trace the supply (of plastic) from beginning to end? If we are getting it from the ocean, we want to have that source be certified, and not just by us saying that, but that it is certifiable by a third party. That’s not something that has been done in the past.”

Microsoft’s wireless Ocean Plastic Mouse contains 20 per cent recycled plastic – higher than the 10 per cent original goal – and comes in 100-per-cent recycled packaging sourced from recyclable paper pulp, the latter deriving from sugarcane fibres and recyclable wood.

“There’s a lot of pride there, but also a lot of humility,” Gaule added. “This isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s the beginning of a journey. It’s a moment we can take with our customers and say, ‘Hey, we are really thinking about this and working hard at it.’ This is one example, and we want to do more of this. What I really look forward to is the kind of dialogue with our customers who buy these. I want to hear why they did it, what was interesting about it to them. Because that’s only going to help us going forward.”

The product is now available for pre-order in North America and goes on sale internationally this month, priced around US$24 or €21.

Irene Dong

Irene Dong

Irene Dong is a graduate of Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology with a major in international relations, specialising in public relations, communications, and media. An aspiring writer she has a passion for fashion, sustainability, and languages.


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