Approximately 50 million tons of electronic scrap are produced each year, but only 20 percent is recycled, according to the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE). The amount of electronics will more than double by 2050 to 120 million tons, making it the “fastest growing material stream in the world.”
The desire to capture more of these materials, divert electronics from landfills and increase the use of recycled content and ocean-bound plastics in new products has led Dell Technologies, Round Rock, Texas, to create new partnerships, initiatives and take-back programs that are bedrocks of the company’s future sustainability vision. Cris Villanueva, senior director of Dell’s global take-back program, recently talked with Recycling Today about expanding the Dell Reconnect program, reaching 2020 goals ahead of schedule and developing a supply chain of recycled material and ocean-bound plastics.
“Providing services that offer our customers environmentally responsible choices while enabling a circular economy is what we do on a day-to-day basis and is also why I absolutely love my job,” Villanueva says.
Recycling Today (RT): Dell has recovered 2 billion pounds of used electronics through take-back and recycling programs. How does the company reach customers and source end-of-life electronics through the Dell Reconnect program?
Cris Villanueva (CV): E-scrap is one of the fastest growing domestic waste streams on the planet, so providing consumers with a more responsible and safe method of recycling is critical to diverting our old electronics from ending up in the landfill. We launched Dell Reconnect in 2004, in partnership with Goodwill Industries, by providing free technology recycling to consumers that support jobs and skills training for individuals with disabilities in our communities. Dell Reconnect accepts any brand of computer equipment in any condition and revenue from the recycled computer equipment goes back into the program to support Goodwill’s employment placement and job training services both in the community and at Goodwill locations. Together, we use a variety of our vehicles and channels to communicate with customers and team members about responsible recycling options. For example, we developed co-op pages with all our Goodwill partners, so communities can easily learn about the Dell Reconnect program and find locations to conveniently drop off their electronics. This year, we also enhanced the digital experiencing for our recycling process by launching an online self-service webpage to better guide customers to the right service they need.
RT: What is the impact of the take-back program?
CV: We’ve scaled the program and now offer recycling options at more than 2,000 Goodwill locations throughout the U.S. We also provide consumers with free take-back services through our consumer trade-in program. In addition, our Asset Resale and Recycling (ARR) services provides businesses pickup logistics, data protection and responsible retirement of any brand of owned or leased hardware, plus detailed reporting of each system’s journey from collection to final disposition. In 2019, our ARR returned more than $23 million in resale value to our commercial customers. This all aligns nicely with other innovations we’re working on because it ties into the circular economy, which is our North Star when it comes to our sustainability strategy--all materials are recycled responsibly and sold to the commodities market or reused in other ways.
RT: In 2014, Dell started to incorporate plastics recovered from electronic scrap into parts for new computers. What recycled materials is Dell using to make new products today?
CV: We turn plastics from used electronics into new products. We use reclaimed carbon fiber from the aerospace industry to make laptop bases. We use polymers from recycled windshields as the protective lining in our backpacks and carrying cases. We use postconsumer plastics and ocean-bound plastics in our packaging. We’re also taking rare earth magnets from old hard drives and reforming them into new hard drives.
Since 2014, Dell has used more than 39 million pounds of plastics, created by recycling plastics from recovered old computers in more than 125 different products through Dell’s closed loop recycling process. As for goals, we recently met our 2020 goal of using more than 100 million pounds of recycled content or sustainably sourced materials in our products and achieved our goal of recycling more than 2 billion pounds of electronics. These goals tied directly into the 2020 Legacy of Good that we closed out last month alongside the announcement of our new 2030 social impact vision, Progress Made Real.
RT: Dell products are made with 30 to 35 percent recycled content. Are there plans to increase recycled content in the future?
CV: We do have a department that focuses on recycling and refurbishment that has naturally grown over the years, and because our recycling streams now are valuable material inputs into products, the team intersects regularly with the product and packaging engineers. We have a cross-company sustainability council to ensure we’re collaborating and planning together on a regular basis. The future is circular, and we see all our solutions not just meeting recycling needs, but product and packaging needs. We want to use as much of our scrap as possible and continue to help our customers do the same. We will continue to grow our recycling programs and offerings. In fact, we have some exciting expansion plans later this year.
RT: Dell Technologies recovers rare earth magnets from old hard drives and works to collect, process and mix ocean-bound plastics with other recycled material to make new packaging products. Can you give an update on these two initiatives?
CV: We worked closely with Teleplan and Seagate to recover rare earth magnets coming from old hard drives and reformed them into new magnets for new hard drives for Dell Latitude notebooks. Aside from this, we also launched NextWave, in partnership with Lonely Whale and the United Nations, as a way of bringing like-minded manufacturers together to build an open source supply chain to use ocean-bound plastics. This group includes companies like IKEA, Herman Miller and GM. We intend to scale our use of ocean-bound plastics and continue to identify new use cases beyond packaging.