Dell announced 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 will achieve its waste-free packaging goals by 2020 through two avenues. Firstly, the 100 percent of Dell packaging will be sourced from sustainable materials, including recycled and rapidly renewable content, or material that was formerly part of the waste stream. Secondly, all packagings will be either recyclable or compostable at the end of its life. Currently, more than half of Dell's packaging meets both these criteria.
Wheat straw is the leftover canes after the wheat grains are harvested and is treated mostly as waste. 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 percent 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 percent less energy and almost 90 percent less water than traditional chemical pulping.
Dell's 2020 packaging goals build on success it already has achieved in the sustainable packaging realm. Last year, Dell achieved the ambitious goals set out in its 3Cs (cube, content, curb) packaging strategy by: reducing the size of packaging more than 12 percent, increasing the amount of recycled and renewable content in packaging up to 40 percent, and ensuring that up to 75 percent of packaging is recyclable at curbside. This work eliminated more than 20 million pounds of packaging material and saved $18 million since 2008. Bamboo is an eco-friendly, rapidly renewable material, which serves as a great alternative to foam
As part of this push, the company currently is working with innovative 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.