Bottom line: The plant-based material for Pela cases has a soft-touch exterior, and they offer plenty of colors and designs. These cases protect your device from everyday wear and tear, and they can fully compost in under six months.
- Plenty of colors and designs to choose from
- Made with plant-based material that fully composts under six months
- Space for optional MagSafe module
- Precise cutouts and tactile button covers
- Velvety soft-touch exterior but still has shock absorption
- MagSafe is extra
- Front lip could be thicker
If you've been looking at phone cases lately, you may have noticed the trend that many cases claim to be made with sustainable or recycled materials (aka "greenwashing"). Every company wants to look more environmentally friendly, right? But those cases still aren't going to fully break down if they are tossed out because they're still made with plastic or silicone.
Enter the Pela case. Pela's Flaxstic material is made from starch-based products and flax shive, so it is largely plant-based. And unlike other cases that claim to be "biodegradable," a Pela case is actually fully compostable in under six months, making it a super environmentally-friendly case choice.
I had the opportunity to check out a Pela case, and it is definitely a case that I can feel good about using with my favorite iPhone.
Pela iPhone Case: Price and availability
Pela makes cases for all models of iPhone going back to the iPhone 5/5s/SE, and as recent as the iPhone 13 lineup, arguably the best iPhone. You can also find Pela cases for the Google Pixel series, Samsung Galaxy lineup, Huawei P50/Pro, and OnePlus 9. The price varies depending on the model you are purchasing for, but it can range from $42 to $60. Pela cases are available direct from Pela's website. Still, you can also find some colors and models on retailer sites like Amazon and Best Buy, with even lower prices than Pela direct. There are a lot of different colors and designs to pick from.
Pela iPhone Case: A protective case that fully breaks down when you're done with it
Since I've been here at iMore, I have reviewed a few different phone cases that say they use recycled plastics and other sustainable materials. However, that's the issue — they still use plastic. The Pela case is unique because it does not utilize plastic. Instead, it is composed of a starch-based and flax shive. The result is a bioplastic elastomer that Pela calls "Flaxstic," which also completely breaks down without leaving behind any toxins. In fact, a Pela case can completely break down in your compost in under six months, whereas other "biodegradable" cases will still be largely intact.
Due to the Flaxstic that has starch-based materials, the Pela case has a soft-touch, velvety feel. It also appears matte so that it may show oily smudges over time. Overall, it reminds me of how most silicone cases feel, except without that sticky feeling. I keep my phone in my pockets, and so far have not had issues with lint and debris getting all over the case. The case itself is also incredibly flexible, so it's super easy to get it on and off the case when necessary.
One may be concerned that the Pela case is not as protective as hardshell plastic cases. That's not entirely true. Flax shive, one of the plant-based materials used, is a waste product from wheat. In this case, the purpose of flax shive is to provide shock absorption from impacts and drops. I've tested dropping my iPhone 13 Pro around the house with the Pela case on (as I usually would), and it has done its job well so far. My case does not have a lot of scuffs on it, and my iPhone 13 Pro remains in pristine condition.
The interior of the Pela case, at least for iPhone 13 models, actually has a square space where the magnets should be. This is because when you purchase a Pela iPhone 13 case, you can add a MagSafe Module for another $5. If you purchase this, you simply put that MagSafe module in that space, and it turns your Pela case into one that works with all of your favorite MagSafe accessories. Of course, this is entirely optional, so you can totally skip out on the module if you don't need MagSafe. But if you do, it's also nice that MagSafe is just $5 more, rather than another $10 for a different version of the case like a lot of other brands do it.
I've tried a lot of phone cases out over the years, and one of my pet peeves are cases that make the buttons all squishy or incredibly hard to press. I like that perfect balance of tactile feedback with a click. The Pela case has some of the larger button covers that I've seen, but the case still provides that nice tactile feeling when you push the buttons.
You also have precise cutouts for the cameras, charging ports, and speakers, as well as the mute toggle. The toggle for mute is also quite shallow so that you can get to it without much effort. Since the cutout for the camera does stick out a little, there is a tiny bit of wobble when you touch the screen while it is lying on a flat surface. However, it's not too bad, honestly, and for the most part, it is stable enough. And the opening for the charging port is wide enough that most cables should fit without an issue.
The front of the case has raised edges to keep your screen safe if you place it face down on flat surfaces. The lip should also help protect the screen if you drop it. Those with a excellent screen protector on their iPhone should not have issues with the Pela case pushing up on it, as the edges are not too thick. However, you may have an issue if you have a fully edge-to-edge screen protector on.
For my sample of the Pela case, I received the more recent Sage Green Hearts design, which I love. However, Pela has plenty of different colors, designs, and patterns to choose from, so there's bound to be at least one that suits your personal tastes. And honestly, I found all of its designs to be cute or classy without being too obnoxious. And as far as branding goes, there is the Pela logo on the back of the case towards the bottom, but I found it to be subtle enough.
Pela iPhone Case: MagSafe is an optional add-on
I'm definitely enjoying Pela's phone cases, but they're not perfect. I do wish that MagSafe was just included for the iPhone 13 versions instead of being an add-on that you need to pay extra for. After all, the case is already quite pricey, so why not just include MagSafe for the price? I also found it a little odd that the iPhone 12 versions don't have the option for a MagSafe add-on, despite being the first iPhone lineup with MagSafe.
I also would have liked the front edges to be a little thicker than what they are right now. I've really grown to love how most OtterBox and LifeProof cases have raised edges that also slope out and inward towards the screen (like a house roof), making it seem a little thicker. It just gives me more peace of mind when I set my phone face down on a table.
Lastly, the Pela case is certainly not cheap. However, these high-quality cases that are genuinely compostable and environmentally friendly. I love the fact that they will fully break down in compost once you're done with it, so you aren't cluttering up the landfills. Plus, Pela often has deals going on, so it I think it's worth it if you can find them on sale. Plus, you'll feel good about the purchase.
Pela iPhone Case: Competition
When it comes to the best iPhone cases that are environmentally friendly, there is certainly no shortage of those these days. If you are looking for a fun case that is made with recycled materials, then you should consider OtterBox's Core Series with MagSafe case. It consists of 50% recycled material, and it has a soft-touch exterior similar to Pela's case. One of my favorite things about it is the unique "funfetti" look, as it has colored specks all throughout — these are actually ground-up bits of plastic waste. It's definitely a unique aesthetic, and one that's quite fun.
Another good option for a green case is LifeProof's SEE case. This is a slim and lightweight case that is also made from 45% recycled materials. It comes in fun colors and has the tough and durable protection that LifeProof is known for.
While plenty of cases claim to be made with recycled materials, Pela is still the only case to actually break down in compost under six months time. This fact makes Pela still the best choice for those who want a fully environmentally friendly iPhone case.
Pela iPhone Case: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want a true environmentally friendly case
- You like a soft, flexible case that's still protective
- You want MagSafe compatibility and plenty of color options
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You need a rugged case
- You are on a budget
- You don't care about the environment
For those who are looking to truly reduce their carbon footprint, then you simply can't beat the Pela case since it fully composts in six months. It's made with the brand's signature Flaxstic material that is entirely plant-based, so it's soft and flexible but still protective enough for everyday use. There are also a lot of fun colors and designs to choose from, and even if you don't have the latest iPhone 13, Pela has you covered all the way back to the iPhone 5. And those who have an iPhone 13 have the option of adding a MagSafe module to make the case compatible with the best MagSafe accessories for just a few dollars more.
The Pela case is definitely not the most inexpensive option for iPhone protection, but it is the most environmentally friendly. However, I find it a little weird that MagSafe is not included with the iPhone 13 versions for the price.
Bottom line: Protect your iPhone with fun colors and cute designs. And when you're done, just throw this case in your compost pile!
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently the iMore lead on all things iPhone, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.
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