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Dell launches first free recycling program

June 29, 2006

dell_shareholders1Austin American-Statesman
Dan Zehr

Dell Inc. wants its old computers back, and it will pick them up for free. The company said Wednesday that it will provide free recycling for all its products worldwide, the first computer maker to offer such broad recovery services at no charge.

It previously offered free recovery only with the purchase of new Dell products, as most of its competitors do now. In the past, Dell charged customers who weren’t buying new products $10 per package to pick up equipment at their homes.

“This announcement is a breakthrough because Dell is the first electronics company to offer individuals free recycling for all products the company has put on the market worldwide,” Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, wrote in an e-mail.

Schneider and the Texas Campaign have aggressively lobbied Dell and other tech companies to improve their environmental policies.

Most consumer electronics makers offer free recycling in Europe and some parts of the U.S., where free recovery services have been mandated. Dell said it will offer free recovery in all U.S. states by September and throughout the rest of the world by November.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apple Computer Inc. also recycle old computer systems. However, both companies charge a fee to recycle their own products unless consumers are purchasing new equipment from them. Lenovo Group Ltd. will recover old PCs for $30.

“This incremental step might be big for the industry, but it’s not all that big for Dell,” Chairman Michael Dell told reporters. “We have the infrastructure in place to make this happen.”

Tod Arbogast, who helps manage Dell’s environmental programs, said the campaign marked a greater commitment by Dell to the environment. And Michael Dell said the program also could help drive more sales to consumers, who are becoming more environmentally aware.

Dell users who want to recycle their products can go online and enter the serial number from their equipment. They can then print out shipping labels and schedule a pickup, which is handled by the companies that Dell uses to ship its products. Dell also employs other companies to recycle or refurbish its computers, but the contracts no longer allow equipment to be shipped out of the U.S.

The program is another step in the turnaround of Dell’s approach to recycling. Four years ago, activists were stuffing Michael Dell’s home mailbox with thousands of letters, each encouraging him to improve the company’s environmental programs. Since then, environmental groups said, Dell has led the computer industry with initiatives on recycling and reducing levels of toxic materials in its products.

“This signals to us a commitment on Dell’s part to say, ‘We’re responsible for our products’ impact on the environment,’ ” said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Computer Takeback Campaign. “No one else is doing that on a global basis. “Now it’s a matter of how much they’ll promote it,” she said.

Consumers have been slow to recycle old computers, in large part because it’s more convenient to dump them than recycle them. Convenience can be more crucial than price, said John Frey, manager of H-P’s environmental initiatives. One consumer might want to protect sensitive data by destroying the hard drive, while another might want to save the hard drive so the computer can be donated to charity. Though Dell’s recovery program is free, destroying sensitive data is the consumer’s responsibility.

“We’ve found that offering variety and convenience has driven more recycling than any program that sounds like a great idea,” Frey said.

Last year, H-P recovered 140 million pounds of equipment, including printer cartridges and other tech products. Dell recovered 41 million pounds. And Apple, which only a month ago said it would start taking back its old equipment free with the purchase of new products, recovered 6.2 million pounds.

Dell has said it hopes to have recovered a total of 280 million pounds of equipment by 2009.

H-P, which has had recycling programs in place since 1987, has set a goal of 1 billion pounds by 2007. Earlier this week, H-P broadened its worldwide recovery programs and said it would hold recycling drives in seven U.S. states this year.


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