You may not think about it often, but a lot of raw materials, such as aluminum and plastic, are made into a laptop or a desk that is currently sitting on your desk.
Companies consume a lot of physical resources and energy during the manufacturing process so that these materials end up on your hard drive or keyboard drive. This is one reason why Dell has a list of things it wants to change throughout its manufacturing process and beyond. 2030 lunar shots.
We now see one of these goals living in a real product. Dell’s new OptiPlex 7090 Tower and Small Form Factor PC is one of the first to be available on hard drive with closed-loop recycled aluminum. This process saves more than 90% of the energy needed to make new aluminum, which means a lower carbon footprint and lower emissions, helping to minimize Dell’s environmental impact.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Allison Ward, a senior environmental engineer at Dell Technologies, about what’s included in this new program, and more.
It all started with a photo
To start the conversation, I spoke with Ward about the inspiration for this latest Dell closed-loop recycling program. After all, every day has not heard how desktop materials can end up in a full circle – and how it can help advance Dell’s goal of having 50% of all products made from recycled or renewable materials by 2030.
Interestingly, Ward told me it all started with a simple photo taken on a tour of a partner’s recycling facility in Malaysia. While Dell was already working with partners on a rare earth magnetic recycling program, there was something else at this plant that really stopped, exceeding the £ 19,000 of returned magnets already used in Dell and Dell’s competitors ’products.
His manager saw a really old hard drive with a massive pile of aluminum that sat just unused in stock. Then Dell thought it could go into its own products.
“The focus of that tour was on magnets, which are a smaller material and a smaller component on the hard drive. But as we walked through the plant, my manager stopped and took a photo of this huge recycled aluminum scrap, and it was amazing to see, ”Ward said.
After detecting all the scrap aluminum, Dell had the idea to make things bigger instead of a single magnet. “Why can’t it be transferred to a new material like aluminum, which is commonly used in Dell’s product range,” Ward said.
Definition of closed loop recycling
Not everyone is an environmental expert, so “closed-loop recycling” doesn’t necessarily mean much to you as an average PC buyer. But for Dell, it’s a pretty big deal.
Ward says aluminum is one of the five weight percent materials in Dell products. So the use of aluminum from existing recycled products instead of purchasing new ones is huge in terms of sustainability.
“It’s a key goal for us to achieve that 2030 goal,” Ward said. “When you look at recycled aluminum compared to non-recycled sources, it can save up to 90 percent in energy and carbon emissions, so it reduces our footprint and helps us achieve our and our customers’ goals as well.”
In my interest in how the process works, I asked Ward how a typical hard drive would end up going through a closed-loop recycling process. It really surprised me. There are so many thoughts that materials are not wasted. Ward said it comfortably and simply. “Your old technology becomes a lot and you come back to your new technology,” he said.
First, Dell defines everything it uses in the recycling of closed-loop aluminum as a product that comes from an IT product and returns as an IT product. It doesn’t even have to be a Dell-branded IT product, as all the different brands are selected through Dell’s Takeback program. This ensures that the process is as scalable as possible.
Ward then guided me through the steps, a bit like I was at the Dell factory myself.
“What we do is collect old hard drives. They are disassembled, the aluminum-containing components are removed and cleaned. And then they are melted and put in an aluminum ingot. They are then reworked into a new engine base plate, which is the hardest aluminum-containing part of the hard drive.”
Finally, at the end of the process, the hard drive is built with 20 weight percent closed-loop recycled aluminum. Its traditional rotating components and magnets are then added and the hard drive is inserted into products such as the new OptiPlex 7090 Small Form Factor PC.
A sustainable future is bright
For Dell, this new program should come as no surprise. Dell has already created more than 100 million pounds of recycled plastic parts and used similar closed-loop plastic in more than 125 different product lines.
It has also collected more than 2.1 billion pounds of e-waste for responsible recycling or product reuse. On the consumer side, Dell has used sustainable packaging in the XPS configuration. Even selected Dell Latitude laptops is made of wood waste and bioplastic.
It’s a lot of numbers, but Ward tells me that all of this is important to achieving the goal of having 50% of our products made from recycled or renewable materials by 2030.
While it is true that the scope of this new program is currently limited because only certain Dell products use rotating hard drives, Dell believes there are many ways to learn from this title in the future. The company is always looking for feedback from partners and looking at the supply chain and where materials go in all business areas.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to expand our learning about this program. Not all of our products accept rotating hard drives, but we really can’t ignore the material. Whether it’s an XPS or a large server, we’re all looking to expand it,” Ward said.
This program is just the beginning. Ward tells me that a lot of attention is paid to other important materials like plastic and other metals. Dell has also considered using fewer screws and adhesives in its products.
“In addition, we’re constantly looking at how we can drive innovation forward, how to make our products more recyclable, or even how they can be easily manufactured and reused. Some of our design teams are looking at it,” Ward said.
For a greener future with less waste for everyone, it’s hard to see what Dell is doing. My conversation with Ward may have focused on Dell’s closed-loop aluminum recycling, but others in the industry are also taking steps toward a greener future.
Apple is committed be 100% carbon neutral in terms of its supply chain and products by 2030 recycled aluminum cases. HP in turn use plastics bound to the oceans Dragonfly in its products is made from 80% recycled materials. Even Microsoft does its part, by reducing the size of packaging so that the company as a whole can be more sustainable.
Dell is aware of all the developments in the industry, Ward says, and is happy to see everyone doing their part.
“It’s great what those other companies are doing. We all know that a completely circular economy cannot be achieved alone – it requires multiple companies, multiple industries.”