Technological advances and stringent legislation have made 2010 a big year for the electronics industry.
But despite a high interest in e-waste exportation and the development of sleeker designs that allow for easier recycling, many manufacturers are still skipping over one important detail: packaging.
In 2008, Dell announced a plan to revolutionize computer packaging by using recycled content and cutting down on materials – a plan that was expected to result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions and fuel usage related to transportation.
On Tuesday, the company announced that its fervent push towards that goal has proven substantial. Dell has eliminated the use of more than 18.2 million pounds of packaging material since 2008.
To put that into perspective, that’s the same weight as 226 fully-loaded 18-wheelers or almost 4,184 small pick-ups.
Outlined in its recently released 2009 Corporate Responsibility Report, Dell has increased the amount of recycled content in its packaging by approximately 32 percent.
The company is now 94 percent of the way to achieving its stated goal of increasing recycled content in packaging by 40 percent by 2012.
As an added bonus, more than half (57 percent) of Dell’s packaging materials can now be conveniently recycled by customers using their local curbside pick-up programs. The company is aiming for that number to be 75 percent by the end of 2012.
According to Oliver Campbell, senior manager of Global Packaging, Dell’s dramatic reduction started with simple changes that allowed for smaller cube packaging, such as putting fewer disks, catalogs, etc.
Dell also used engineering tools to run various ”what if” scenarios. With these tools, Dell has optimized its Inspiron 15 laptop packaging so that 63 laptops fit on each shipping pallet, up from 54. More laptops on each pallet means more laptops fit into each vehicle, resulting in fewer shipping vehicles and less shipping-related environmental impact.
“Establishing these packaging goals has transformed my team from great packaging engineers to inspired environmental champions,” says Campbell. “The progress we’ve made has kept a lot of materials out of landfills, made responsible packaging disposal easier for customers and is making Dell a more environmentally responsible company.”
Earlier this year, Dell also released a new line of notebook computers made solely from bamboo as an alternative to plastic casing. This type of packaging can be placed in compost systems, and Dell used the resulting soil from its tests to grow cucumber and sunflower plants.
This isn’t the first time Dell has been ahead of the curve on manufacturer responsibility. In 2009, it became the first major computer manufacturer to formally ban the exporting of electronic waste to developing countries.
Currently, the U.S. has no federal law against sending e-waste to dealers overseas, despite existence of the widely accepted Basel Convention, an international treaty which controls the cross-border movement of hazardous waste. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition estimates that the U.S. exports enough e-waste each year to fill 5,126 shipping containers, which when stacked, would reach 8 miles high.