In June, Dell announced ambitious new 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.
Currently, more than half of Dell’s packaging meets both these criteria, says the company.
“Packaging is often the first part of our products that customers see and touch,” says Dell director of packaging procurement Oliver Campbell. “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.”
Wheat straw is part of strategy
In launching its packaging initiatives, the company also announced it will begin using a new sustainable material—wheat straw—in many of its cardboard boxes for notebooks originating in China. Many Chinese farmers currently treat this byproduct of wheat harvesting as waste and burn it for disposal, contributing to air pollution and associated health issues. Beginning this August, 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. Dell says 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, says Dell—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.
Building on sustainability success
Dell relates that its 2020 packaging goals build on the success it already has achieved in the sustainable packaging realm. 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.
As part of this push, the company currently is working with new packaging materials. Dell was the first technology company to use bamboo cushions to replace foam in shipping lightweight products such as notebooks; the rapidly renewable material is light, strong and grows back at up to an inch per hour. The company also is using mushrooms as an organic alternative to foam for heavier products such as servers. Both materials are either recyclable or compostable.
Dell’s packaging efforts are part of its lifecycle approach to sustainability, designing products and services with environmental impact in mind at each stage of their existence. This includes incorporating aspects such as smarter materials choices, energy efficiency, environmental standards, and easy recycling.
Says Trisa Thompson, Dell’s vice president of corporate responsibility, “At Dell, we’re committed to powering the possible—putting our technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and planet. From a simple box to a complex high-performance computing cluster, our customers use Dell products and services to be more efficient and address the environmental issues they care about.”