Kelowna News

Kelowna-based company uses flax for compostable phone cases

Jeremy Lang, founder of Pela, a company first started in Saskatoon that makes biodegradable cellphone cases and eye glasses out of flax stubble. Photo taken in Saskatoon on Thursday April 29, 2021.
Image Credit: Saskatoon StarPhoenix/Michelle Berg

If you ask Jeremy Lang, he’ll tell you flax has some impressive flex, though you might be surprised where that comes in handy — like a case in the palm of your hand, wrapped around your cellphone.

The kicker: They’re biodegradable. Those same flax fibres help your discarded case return to the earth in an appropriate, ecological timeframe (maximum one year in a home compost) after you switch out for a new case.

He launched the first model just under 10 years ago out of Saskatoon, when Apple released its iPhone 4s.

“The weird thing was the (plastic) case you use to protect it would last for hundreds of thousands of years; most people only kept their phones for two years,” Lang said in an interview.

His company, Pela, has grown considerably since he started it at Innovation Place at the University of Saskatchewan campus.

Pela moved its headquarters to Kelowna in 2018, while keeping operations in Saskatoon and expanding them to the U.S., Germany, Hong Kong and China.

It now sells compostable cases for 16 iPhone models and 29 Android-based models. Ditto for straps that need a smart watch. There’s a line of earth-friendly sunglasses, too.

Despite Pela’s global growth, its roots are in Saskatchewan’s agriculture scene, says Lang, who grew up in Regina and Yorkton and earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the U of S.

Driving northeast on Highway 10 to Yorkton as a kid, he recalled, “through the valley at harvest time, the sky was glowing orange. It was getting to be night time, and coming out of the valley I saw these fields on fire.”

His dad told him, "the farmers are burning their flax straw, because they grow it for the oil seed, but the fibre in the straw is so strong it gets caught up in their equipment, so they burn it.”

He figured if it’s that strong, it ought to be good for something. Hence the phone cases.

“It has shock-absorption qualities to it … in Europe they grow flax for the fibre and the straw, not the oil seed,” he said, referencing its use in bike frames and tennis rackets.

That, plus flax’s biodegradable qualities make for a useful phone case ingredient, he said.

Lang also believes it’s important to create a market for farmers where they can sell their baled flax stubble, instead of torching it: Bale processors buy them and break them down into tiny pieces, which Pela buys and puts into its heat-moulded cases, along with coloured biopolymers.

He likened the end product to "a cork-like material" with some eye-catching flax flecks.

Looking ahead, Pela is in the crowdfunding phase of a counter-top, food-scraps composter called Lomi.

Lang says it’s to play a big role in the company reaching its 2028 goal: One billion pounds of waste diverted from landfills, every year, a big chunk of which is all that plastic from those seemingly brick-like cases.

“It's the whole concept of using things as many times as we can and then they have a graceful end of life … so it goes back to the earth and mimics nature,” he said.

— This article was originally published by the The Leader-Post.

UBCO students, Hellen and Elis surverying cyclists at the UBCO exit on the Okanagan Rail Trail.
Driverless bus could become part of the Rail Trail in Kelowna
A joint UBCO-City of Kelowna study on transit options for the Okanagan Rail Trail through the city is stopping users to get their thoughts. “The need from the city was to explore the opportunity for this corridor, that is available to
Gasthaus on the Lake is a popular German restaurant in Peachland.
Peachland's medieval Gasthaus on the Lake reopens
A popular German restaurant on Peachland’s waterfront is reopening for medieval dining after months of repairs following a burst pipe and the resulting damage. Gasthaus on the Lake is having a soft launch from Wednesday, Sept. 28, to
Local and International media set up as a small line starts to form in front of the Tweed store on Water Street in St. John's on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
Canopy Growth to sell Tweed, Tokyo Smoke stores to OEGRC and Four20 owner
Canopy Growth Corp. is getting out of the cannabis retail business with two deals to divest its Tweed and Tokyo Smoke stores. The Smiths Falls, Ont. cannabis company announced Tuesday that it sold all of its stores outside Alberta, as well
Another $10 million property sold in Kelowna
A waterfront home on an acreage that was listed for almost $11 million by Jane Hoffman Realty has been sold. The home on 7.5 acres at 4840 Lakeshore Road was valued by B.C. Assessments at $2.3 million as of July 2021 but was listed for sale

Top News