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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Dell Announces Goals to Source Packaging From Only Sustainable Materials

Dell announced goals last week to source 100 percent of packaging from sustainable materials that will be recyclable or compostable. The goals include achieving a waste-free packaging stream by 2020. Presently, over half of Dell's packaging is sourced from sustainable materials and is either recyclable or compostable at its life-cycle end.

One of the sustainable materials that Dell will use is wheat straw, which comes from the byproduct of wheat harvesting. Many Chinese farmers burn wheat straw to get rid of it, which only adds to air pollution. Starting this August, Dell will incorporate wheat straw into its boxes, beginning with 15 percent by weight and increasing from there as operations scale. The rest of the content for the box will come from recycled content fiber. The boxes will be recyclable at their life-cycle end.

Initially, Dell estimates that it will use 200 tons of straw a year, sourced from farmers in the Jiangsu Province. That will prevent 180 tons of carbon emissions a year, which is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by over 4,600 seedlings plant and grown for a decade. The wheat straw will go through an enzymatic process during pulping, similar to that found in a cow's digestive system, that uses 40 percent less energy and almost 90 percent less water than traditional chemical pulping.

Past initiatives & innovations in packaging

Dell achieved the goals last year that it set out in its 3Cs (cube, content, curb) packaging strategy. The 3Cs goals included reducing packaging size by over 12 percent, increasing the amount of recycled content in packaging up to 40 percent, and making sure that up to 75 percent of packaging is recyclable at curbside. Achieving these goals eliminated over 20 million pounds of packaging material and saved $18 million since 2008.

Dell became the first company to use bamboo cushions to replace foam in shipping lightweight products such as laptops. Bamboo is rapidly renewable. It grows back at up to an inch per hour, and up to 24 inches a day, and can be harvested in just three to seven years. It is also light and strong. The bamboo used for its packaging grows nearby the facilities that make its products, which reduces the company's packaging-related carbon footprint. In addition, the bamboo used in its packaging is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

While bamboo foam works well for lightweight products, it doesn't work well for heavier products such as desktops and servers. Dell is using mushrooms as an organic alternative to foam for heavier products. The process involves placing cotton hulls, rice hulls or wheat chaff in a mold and injecting it with mushroom spawn. Five to 10 days later, the mushroom root structure is finished growing, and the final product looks and acts like Styrofoam, but it is organic, biodegradable and can be used as compost of mulch. The mushroom-based foam packing is being used with Dell's PowerEdge R710 server multipacks, but the company plans to expand the use of them.

Photo: Flickr user, vernieman

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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