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How Dell is Closing the Loop

nayelli.gonzalez headshotWords by Nayelli Gonzalez

Green Electronics Council Sponsored Series

The Circular Economy and Green Electronics
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As our world increasingly revolves around the latest tech gadgets, consider this: Less than 15 percent of electronic products are recycled each year, and the majority of e-waste that is thrown into landfills can be readily reused or recycled for materials recovery, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When it comes to the electronics industry, the gap to close the loop is huge. Dell hopes to change that with its design-for-environment-inspired OptiPlex 3030 and closed loop plastic recycling initiative.

One of 2000 computer models to be registered in the EPEAT green rating system, the OptiPlex 3030 All-in-One Dell computer contains at least 10 percent repurposed plastic from recycled electronics and sets a new closed loop supply chain standard for the industry.

Consumer education

The design, which earned Dell the 2014 Design for Recycling Award from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), not only helps the company trim its e-waste and reduce carbon emissions by 11 percent compared with virgin plastics, but it is also a ready-made consumer education and communications tool.

“This is really resonating with customers in that they can see the direct value in recycling,” said Scott O’Connell, director of environmental affairs at Dell. “With the closed loop system you can show customers the connection. It’s not just about dropping off items at the curb anymore. When a customer recycles e-waste, it can come back to them in a new product.”

This is a huge win considering that 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are sent to landfills worldwide each year and e-waste remains the fastest growing municipal waste stream in this country, according to the United Nations and the EPA. Consumer engagement is the Rubik’s cube that needs to be solved to close loops and truly build a circular economy.

Recycling partnerships


As part of Dell’s 2020 Legacy of Good Plan, the company’s goal is to recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics by 2020. To increase awareness of electronics recycling, Dell has partnered with various organizations to enable consumers to recycle e-waste for free in 78 countries.

In the United States, Dell has partnered with Goodwill to make it free and convenient for consumers to recycle any type of electronic waste in 2,000 locations across the country. The program also creates jobs and revenue for Goodwill.

Last year, Dell partnered with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to develop new e-waste recycling models in developing countries, too. The company’s Asset Resale and Recycling service enables commercial customers in 44 countries to recycle e-waste.

Employee engagement


While Dell has focused on facilitating consumer recycling, the company has also engaged its employees to help build a circular economy. In past years, the company has seen more public sector and government customers looking for sustainable attributes in their products, especially customers in Europe, and has therefore enlisted employees to innovate around sustainability.
“As employees hear more about our closed loop recycling program and the circular economy, they’re prompting us to look across other sectors and see if we can use their waste ... in our packaging,” O’Connell said. “It’s been fun to see what other ideas come out. We’re finding unique opportunities that we wouldn’t have identified naturally.”

Employees have looked into using waste streams from the automotive and aerospace industries for in Dell’s packaging. And later this year, Dell will announce a partnership that might get the industry talking some more about the circular economy. Let’s keep our eyes peeled for that.

Images courtesy of Dell

Nayelli Gonzalez headshotNayelli Gonzalez

Nayelli is the Founder & CEO of Creators Circle, a nonprofit working to close opportunity gaps for future generations of impact changemakers. A trained journalist with an MBA, she also keeps the pulse on sustainable business and social impact trends and has covered these topics for a variety of publications over the past decade. She’s a systems thinker who loves to learn, share knowledge and help others connect the dots. Follow her on Twitter @NayelliGonzalez.

Read more stories by Nayelli Gonzalez