Dell shows strong support for e-recycling

As environmental awareness and impact among individual consumers and business customers continues to grow, greater demands are now being placed on manufacturers to promote recycling and to reduce their environmental footprint.

For Dell Inc., a major computer manufacturer, this consumer awareness is shaping corporate policy in terms of dealing with increasing amounts of e-waste on a state and national basis, and helping to better define the term “producer responsibility”.

Manufacturing a computer requires energy inputs ranging from the manufacturing of parts and assembly to the transport of the parts and finished product, as well the printed materials and packaging for the unit and various materials.

“Our basic policy is that we’ll recycle anything with a Dell brand on it for free at any time – no additional purchase required,” says Bryant Hilton, Dell’s corporate responsibility communications manager. “We’ll come to a customer’s site and take the equipment back. Under the same program, if somebody is purchasing a new Dell computer and has an old computer that is not made by Dell, we’ll take that back for free.

“In 2007, we collected 102 million pounds of equipment from customers – a 20 percent increase over 2006,” he adds. “We hope to set a new bar in 2008. We collected 78 million pounds (nearly 40,000 tons) of unwanted information-technology equipment from customers in 2006, a 93 percent increase over 2005.”

For individual consumers, recycling is free, but this differs for commercial and institutional customers who usually purchase a value-added service to cover the cost of reverse logistics to collect equipment from different locations, have hard drives (HD) erased on-site or to provide full reporting.

Companies and institutions asking Dell to recycle their equipment could also receive a financial benefit.

“We include value recovery,” says Hilton. “Often when a business retires their equipment, it is going to be newer and there is a good chance that either as a system or as parts, the equipment has value on the secondary market. If a customer wants, we’ll do the refurbishment, sell it and return those proceeds to them. If managed correctly, they can get cash back.”

Additional benefits for companies, says Hilton, include the data wipes on hard drives to remove data, the avoidance of improperly disposing of electronics and the freeing up of office space housing older equipment.

As well, for charitable purposes, Dell is able to help companies donate equipment to NGOs and schools through the aid of the National Cristina Foundation , an organization that matches computers with non-profit organizations.

“They’ll match a consumer’s donated used computer with a non-profit that needs a new system and this allows the donation to stay local,” says Bryant. “The NCF is a partner on the business side and we can custom work with them for that purpose.”

For Dell, this policy helps to establish a thriving secondary market for complete systems and parts, which extends the lifespan of electronics components, creates value for these items, helps to ensure proper maintenance and further delays the possibility of e-waste possibly ending up in landfills.

Dell’s Reconnect Program, a free drop-off program to recycle unwanted computers with Goodwill Industries International, is critical to recycling electronics.

“The free recycling for consumers all involves trying things to make it as convenient as possible for consumers,” says Hilton. “Some find the drop-off more convenient than the home pickup. This is how we started working with Goodwill and it is based on accepted consumer behavior – if you have gently used goods that you don’t need anymore, but have value, you just give it to Goodwill. It seemed natural to work computers into their process and it has worked very well.”

Dell’s connection to Goodwill began in the Austin, Texas in 2004.

“Ideally consumers have a choice where Reconnect is available,” says Hilton. “They can bring their old computer to Goodwill and know that it is going to be well recycled and support the community.”

The goals of the Reconnect Program for the Goodwill Western New York are to:

  • Offer consumers free recycling for any brand of computer equipment in any condition. Residents can find a drop-off location at or
  • Divert over 450,000 pounds of used computers and equipment from area landfills over the next year; and provide consumer education on the importance of environmentally-responsible computer disposal. Reconnect also can help create job opportunities for individuals with disabilities and other employment barriers.

The goals for the Reconnect program in the greater Rochester area – , started on July 3, are similar and include:

  • To divert over 300,000 pounds of used computers and computer equipment over the next year.
  • ABVI-Goodwill accepting and sorting the donated computer equipment and Dell’s product recovery partner will recycle and remarket the recycled materials. All proceeds support programs and job opportunities at ABVI-Goodwill for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Cities and areas with Reconnect programs include Austin (15 counties in Central Texas), San Antonio (23 counties in Central and South Texas), Houston (15 counties), San Francisco (Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties), San Diego County, North Carolina (49 counties), Pittsburgh, Northern New Jersey, Northwest Ohio and locations throughout Michigan.

Concerns are growing about the export of e-waste to developing countries. Dell appreciates these concerns and has taken steps to prevent this from happening.

“Regardless of the path of where it comes in, the material goes to a recycler that we authorize and all of our recyclers world wide have one set of standards that cover workplace and environmental requirements,” says Hilton. “One of the key elements is that there are absolutely no exports of e-waste or landfilling of anything environmentally sensitive. If waste is going to a developing nation where it is going to cause environmental harm, that is creating more of a problem.”

While Dell did not disclose the cost of its various programs and partnerships with Goodwill, Hilton says “we’ve made a significant investment in recycling programs. For recycling in general there are no incentives. If anything, the mandated requirements to recycle are growing, especially at the state level. There’s a cost to complying with those mandates and we find that programs such as our nationwide free recycling with home pick-up and Reconnect, where available, are helping minimize the costs to Dell of that compliance.”