Published 4 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
“We’ve made a really good run at making electronics recycling convenient and easy, but there is an opportunity for the entire IT industry." — Dell's Scott O'Connell
Dell continues to make headway on its plans to dramatically increase the
amount of repurposed and reclaimed content in its supply chain, with a goal of
100 million pounds of reused materials in its products by 2020 (double its
original goal of 50 million, which it achieved in
Its model could provide the entire industry with methods, practices and —
through collaboration — opportunities to reduce the growing global e-waste
problem and shift towards a more circular economy in the electronics sector.
In fact, Dell has been a leader in addressing e-waste for a decade, since the
launch of the Dell Reconnect program more than a decade ago. In 2011, the
company partnered with
to establish more than 2,000 e-waste recycling centers across the United States
which, importantly, accepted used electronics from all manufacturers, not just
Dell. And in 2014, it launched a partnership with the United Nations to
in the developing world.
“Dell has the world’s largest tech recycling program, in over 75 countries and
territories around the world,” Scott O'Connell, Dell’s Director of
Environmental Affairs, told Sustainable Brands in a recent interview.
According to the Global E-Waste Monitor, in 2016, a
staggering 44.7 million metric tons (8 percent) of e-waste were generated from
2014, with the vast majority ending up in landfills, where it can leech
dangerous toxins. As more people get Internet access and purchase phones,
laptops and other electronic devices, this figure will continue to grow ever
Increasing recycling rates is one part of the solution, but it alone is not
enough. Ultimately, we need a circular economy for electronics, where materials
are used in a closed-loop system, with little or no waste ending up in
landfills. Dell understands this, and hence its focus is not just on increasing
the amount of e-waste that is recycled, but also figuring out how to bring more
of what it collects back into its supply chain and its products.
In fact, since 2013, Dell has used 73 million pounds of recycled materials in
its products. To do this, it had to work both internally — to work to design
products to include recycled materials without losing any quality or
functionality — and also through external partnerships.
“The technology to recover materials from products is a key challenge,”
O'Connell said. “We found, in the early days, [the technology] wasn’t good
enough to produce a clean-enough plastic, so we had to go through a lot of trial
and error to get the technology to work to achieve a material that was viable
enough, while not sacrificing anything from an aesthetic or performance
The good news is, this knowledge can now be transferred to other e-waste
materials. Dell has looked beyond plastics — in 2015, the company announced an
industry-first use of recycled carbon
and it is now also recovering gold, a key material in many electronics, some of
which is now being **turned into
The question, according to O'Connell, is, “what are the other critical materials
in electronics that it makes sense to drive closed-loop solutions around?”
There is still a long way to
to close the loop on electronics waste. Despite Dell’s efforts, the global
e-waste recycling rate is still only around 20 percent. Dell, while a major
player, is just one of dozens of companies, and the only way to both increase
e-waste collection — and close the loop — is to work together.
“We’ve made a really good run at making electronics recycling convenient and
easy, but the total rate is small, so we think there is an opportunity for the
entire IT industry,” O'Connell said. “That recycling rate should be higher than
Other companies are taking action, too, including electronics giant Apple,
which has ambitiously pledged to use 100 percent recycled
in its products. There is another benefit for companies that move forward on
reuse — consumers are, increasingly, demanding it: “We’re seeing our customers
raising their expectations with regards to sustainable products,” O’Connell
Creating a closed loop for electronics will require continued** innovation and
investment in design**, recycling technology, recovery and supply chain
management. But with some of the giants already leading the way, the path
towards an e-waste-free future is possible.
Published Jan 21, 2019 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.