US - Dell has announced ambitious sustainable packaging initiatives, including goals for a waste-free packaging stream by 2020 and a new wheat straw material that turns agricultural waste into boxes.
The company says it will achieve its waste-free packaging goals by 2020 through two avenues: ensuring that 100% of Dell packaging is sourced from sustainable materials, including recycled and rapidly renewable content, or material that was formerly part of the waste stream; and ensuring that 100% of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable at the end of its life.
Dell claims that more than half of its current packaging meets both these criteria.
Oliver Campbell, Dell’s director of packaging procurement, said, “Packaging is often the first part of our products that customers see and touch. From that first interaction, we want to ensure our customers know we’re dedicated to operating in an environmentally responsible manner, and we want to make it easier for them to be sustainable as well.”
Last year, Dell achieved the goals set out in its 3Cs (cube, content, curb) packaging strategy by: reducing the size of packaging more than 12%, increasing the amount of recycled and renewable content in packaging up to 40%, and ensuring that up to 75% of packaging is recyclable at curbside. This work eliminated more than 20 million pounds of packaging material and saved $18 million since 2008.
Sustainable wheat straw packaging
Dell also announced it will begin using a new sustainable material — wheat straw — in many of its cardboard boxes for notebooks originating in China.
Wheat straw, a byproduct of wheat harvesting, is currently treated by many Chinese farmers as waste and burnt for disposal, contributing to air pollution and associated health issues.
Beginning August 2013, Dell will incorporate the straw in its boxes, starting with 15% by weight and ramping up as operations scale. The remainder of the box will primarily come from recycled content fiber. The boxes will look and perform like regular cardboard, and they will be recyclable at the end of their life.
Dell estimates initially it will use 200 tons of wheat straw per year, sourced from farmers in the Jiangsu Province. This move could alleviate 180 tons of CO2 emissions annually, the equivalent of carbon sequestered by more than 4,600 seedlings planted and grown for a decade. During pulping, the wheat straw will go through an enzymatic process — modeled after the way cows digest grass — that uses 40% less energy and almost 90% less water than traditional chemical pulping.
Dell is also currently working with other innovative packaging materials. Dell was the first technology company to use bamboo cushions to replace foam in shipping lightweight products such as notebooks. It is also using mushrooms as an organic alternative to foam for heavier products such as servers. Both materials are either recyclable or compostable.
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