Dell is making fast progress on its closed-loop plastics recycling goals.
For the year ended 31 January, Dell's closed-loop program processed 3.4 million pounds of recycled plastics from old electronics for reuse in desktops and displays, according to its latest Legacy of Good sustainability report.
In addition, Dell recycled 170,000 pounds of carbon fiber for laptops and 10.7 million pounds of plastics from water bottles, CD cases and other sources, which were used to make desktops and displays.
“We set out years ago to do what is good for customers, the environment and the community,” said David Lear, executive director of corporate sustainability for Dell in Round Rock, Texas, US. Dell released the update 20 June outlining its progress toward meeting 21 corporate sustainable goals by 2020.
Dell began a pilot phase of the closed-loop recycling project with a limited number of products in April 2014.
Currently, Dell limits its closed-loop program to recycling the plastic content in 48 products, but it is exploring an expansion of materials to include precious metals such as gold.
Dell used 14.1 million pounds of recycled plastics in its products during the 12 months. That was a 20.5% increase from the previous fiscal year's 11.7 million pounds.
In 2013, Dell committed to putting a total of 50 million pounds of sustainable materials back into its products by 2020. So far, Dell has reused 36.2 million pounds over three years.
Dell reports that 416 of its products meet various Energy Star standards representing approximately 90 percent of eligible product lines such as desktops, notebooks, storage, displays and servers. In 1993, Dell was a founding member of the Energy Star joint voluntary program of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy.
Dell is collaborating with the Lonely Whale Foundation, which promotes ocean health awareness. Adrian Grenier, an actor, film maker and the non-profit's co-founder in December 2015, serves as Dell's first social-good advocate.
The foundation and company have started a feasibility study looking for ways to capture and use ocean plastics including high density polyethylene in Dell packaging.
There are “trillions of pounds of plastic waste in the ocean,” Lear said in a phone interview. “Can we create a demand to make harvesting the plastics feasible?”
The project explores technologies for “any way to capture the plastics [in the ocean gyres] or a way to capture outbound plastics,” he said.
The collection mechanism Dell Reconnect reflects the company's effort toward achieving a circular economy. More than 2,000 Goodwill Industries International-affiliated stores and donation centers in 44 states serve as Dell Reconnect collection sites. The program accepts any brand of used electronics from which data has been cleared, but only a portion of the Goodwill stream qualifies for the Dell closed-loop recycling initiative.
“We want to make recycling convenient [and have] a level of consistency” in materials, Lear said.
Goodwill evaluates whether a computer is suitable for refurbishment or needs to be recycled. Goodwill says that the donation of a working computer can equate to 6.8 hours of job training for a Goodwill employee.
For the recycling phase, Dell uses the services of four to six US partners to disassemble machines and isolate materials for Dell's reuse.
Eventually, the resins and blends go to injection moulders in China and elsewhere for the manufacturing of new Dell computers, typically with 35% recycled-content.
Among the benefits, Dell is “able to get material cheaper than market-recycled material,” Lear noted.
Among its resin consumption, Dell's largest recycled material is polycarbonate-ABS blend, typically for housings, displays and bezels.
Dell and Goodwill started their partnership in 2004, initially in Texas. So far, the program has recycled more than 427 million pounds of computer electronics. Dell's 2020 goal for the effort is a total of 2 billion pounds. Goodwill does not have a similar recycling arrangement with any other computer maker.
Among Dell's other 2020 goals are zero-waste packaging and sourcing through sustainable processes, Lear said. While knowing plastics are necessary for packaging, “we are looking at different materials” including paper, mushroom and wheat.
Now, about 93% of Dell packaging by weight is sustainably sourced and regarded as recyclable or compostable.
Dell says that sustainable sourcing and box-size reductions reduced packaging costs by $13m (€11.5m) in the year ended 31 January.
Other aspects of Dell's Legacy of Good plan include training suppliers on water conservation practices, providing technology and solar-powered energy for educating underserved children globally and encouraging workplace telecommuting and supplier diversity.
Lear noted how production of today's sleek flat-panel displays uses significantly less resin that was used in the old cathode-ray tube displays.
The Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries presented Dell with its 2014 design for recycling for two tablets and a laptop model that emphasized recycling during every phase of their lifecycle.
Privately owned Dell ranked third globally with shipment of 10.2 million personal computers for the fourth quarter ended 31 December, according to technology analyst Gartner.