Globally there has been a dramatic increase in environmental consciousness that is steering decision making. We carry our re-usable coffee cups, shopping tote bags and even support recycled textile industry. Why then should the ICT industry be any different? Accordingly, tech-giant Dell Technologies has taken drastic steps to pave the way to sustainability and in doing so are moving beyond the traditional take-make-waste model that has characterised the global production sector for far too long.
The circular economy:
The circular economy challenges the way we perceive and value the lifespan of materials and products. By shifting our current ‘take-make-waste’ linear model toward a more holistic model, the circular economy is designed to benefit business, society, and the environment through regenerative design and ultimately future use. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this new sustainable school of thinking is, therefore, based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
The circular economy focusses on eliminating or designing out the negative impact economic activities have on the natural environmental and human health. These harmful activities extend to the release of greenhouse gases and hazardous substances, as well as air, land and water pollution.
The circular economy aims to design products with future use in mind, and by so keeping products and materials in use (in the loop) rather than a singular means to an end. Accordingly, it welcomes activities such as designing for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, recycling with future use in mind, and ultimately ensuring the continuous circulation of materials. This is also applicable to the use of bio-based materials and encouraging multiple uses to benefit both the economy and natural systems.
The circular economy advocates for renewable resources. It, therefore, supports actions such as returning valuable nutrients to the soil to support regeneration and using renewable energy sources such as solar panels rather than relying on limited fossil fuels.
Rather than viewing resources and products to fulfil a single use, the circular economy represents a paradigm and systematic shift towards resilience. Ultimately this would unlock business and economic opportunities while providing environmental and societal benefits.
Applying the circular principles with Dell
With a newly acquired circular economy outlook, Dell is unlocking real benefits to customers and the planet alike. They view waste as a resource and are working hard to keep materials in the loop and diverting waste from ending up in landfills. Dell upgraded to a more circular approach to production more than 10 years ago by integrating recycled content martials into their global supply chains and thus breaking away from the traditional linear take-make-waste approach. Dell reuses parts in a closed-loop approach by reusing them for the same purpose, as well as an open-loop by reusing them in an alternative role when the parts are no longer viable to serve the same function. How do they do this? Well, by operating on both land and sea; closed-loop and open-loop.
Dell Technologies are leaders in their fields, designing products with a holistic whole lifecycle in mind and emphasising recyclability, repair and reuse or their parts. Dell executes a closed loop system by recycling and reusing plastics, precious metals, and magnets:
- Plastics: The recycled closed-loop plastics are disassembled, shredded, melted, and mixed with virgin plastics. From leaving the consumer’s hand to being fully integrated and return as a new computer the process takes about six months. According to Dell, their closed-loop recycling content increased to about 30-35%. Additionally, opening the supply chain to recycles plastics are benefiting the tech-giant significantly ($1.3 million annually) compared to virgin plastics.
- Rare earth magnets: Although this project is still in pilot-phase, Dell is working closely to hard drive manufacturer Seagate and their recycling program partner Teleplan to recover rare-earth magnets. These magnets are then separated, ground, and reformed into new magnets to be used in new hard drives. The project’s scalability is currently being investigated.
- Motherboard materials: There are many precious metals in modern-day technology devices – gold, silver, aluminium, copper, platinum, and many others. Dell is working hard to address the globally poorly e-waste recycling rates by shining the light on these precious metals. They are piloting the recovery of these metals e-waste into new motherboards since 2018. This niche recycling method is UL Environmentally certified and caused 99% less environmental damage than mining for virgin gold.
According to Dell, the plastics collected from the recycling results in a smaller carbon footprint and reduces costs. The closed-loop project is certified by the UL Environment and was the first major technology project to follow their new standard.
In contrast to closed-loop, open-loop refers to the sourcing materials from one product system into a different product system. Dell executes their open-loop initiatives by turning plastic marine waste into a resource. By collecting, processing and mixing ocean-bound plastics with other land-based recycled plastics, the resources are introduced into their supply chain, enabling Dell to produce moulded trays of packaging for selected products such as their Dell XPS 13″ 2-in-1 Laptop. To mark these trays uniqueness, they are marked with a fitting illustration of two whales and the #2 recycling symbol.
According to Dell, this project will remove up to 16 000 pounds of plastics out of the ocean. However, their aim is to scale the project to 160 000 pounds by 2025 and to continue reintroducing the reclaimed marine plastics into Dell packaging and products in the future.
The future is circular
The circular economy’s focus is to minimise disposable waste and the need for raw materials by keeping existing materials and assets in the production cycle. It challenges the current linear economy characterised by the “take, make and waste” model and rather emphasises the need to reuse, recycle and repair and thus viewing waste as a resource.
Although the transition to a circular economy is relatively new to the tech industry, it is here to stay and required a global buy-in. It will require resilience, collaboration, and innovation amongst industries, stakeholders, and governing bodies. Although it will require innovation, technology will play a key role in enabling the paradigm-shift to a circular economy.
Visit Dell’s website for more information how they intend to close the loop and implement the circular economy principles. Keep an eye on our website for more articles where we shine the green light on the tech-industry.