Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dell addresses the growing problem of electronic e-waste

In a recent press release Dell described their success in attacking the problem of e-waste. For those not conscious of the issue of e-waste, hazardous substances from discarded electronics that are populating landfills has become a significant issue with the EPA estimating that in 2005 there was 2.6M tons of e-waste made up in part from 133,000 personal computers being discarded each day in the US and 2.6 Billion units forecast to be scrapped this decade.

Dell has decided to address the issue directly with targeted programs with Staples and Goodwill. Staples has launched the program in 1500 stores and Goodwill are creating 1400 recycle drop-off points nationwide.

The results to date are to be commended with a 2008 achievement of 275M lbs of used computer equipment recycled and kept from contaminating the countries landfills.

The equipment is not the only concern. Dell reduced their packaging materials by 9.5 m LBS which is equivalent to approximately 150,000 trees. Innovative twist, they eliminated packaging material by using 2,000,000 recycled milk jugs (HDPE) as protective cushioning.

Dell has certainly displayed leadership with their corporate responsibility programs and it could be argued that they have the resources to afford such efforts. However these programs are not luxuries and all manufacturers large and small should be paying attention to sustainability practices. The problem has the attention of legislators with a state level movement gaining traction causing recycling fees to be imposed on manufactures at the point of sale. My understanding is that to date 19 states plus New York City have passed legislation mandating statewide e-waste recycling. Several more considering such in 2009 and 2010. All laws to date other than California use the producer responsibility approach where manufacturers must pay for recycling. California however passed a consumer, fee based, law.

So my message to vendors is to be prepared as in the words of Paul Revere “the regulators are coming”, my apologies to the historical purists. It is better to plan and be prepared than to ignore and scramble. Note to the end user; challenge your vendors on their end of life disposal plans if you do not you may be stuck with the cost of dealing with responsible recycling.