Dell Commits to 100% Waste-Free Packaging by 2020

Ambitious sustainable packaging news from computer giant Dell:

It was recently announced that Dell has committed to sourcing 100% of their packaging from sustainable materials that are also recyclable or compostable by 2020. They will do this by using sustainable materials such as mushrooms, bamboo, and a new wheat straw material that turns agricultural waste into boxes.

Dell's announcement shows that sustainable packaging technology is evolving to the point where in the future, it will no longer be logistically, financially, or ethically possible to create consumer product packaging that is not sustainable and responsible. 

As a package designer, it is our innate responsibility to design packaging with our earth in mind. Each and every one us who designs consumer product packaging for a living has the ability and the duty to create packaging that has less of an impact on the world we all live in. We have the opportunity to make big changes to our industry, and to use less natural resources, reduce waste, encourage recycling and reuse, and to create sustainable brands of tomorrow. 

Read more below to see how Dell is using mushrooms, bamboo, and wheat straw in their new generation of sustainable packaging. 

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“Packaging is often the first part of our products that customers see and touch. 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.” 

Oliver Campbell, director of packaging procurement, Dell

Dell will achieve its waste-free packaging goals by 2020 through two avenues:

  • Ensuring that 100 percent 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 percent 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.

Bamboo

In 2010 Dell launched packaging made out of Bamboo:

"Paper and plastic may be the most common packaging options, but they’re not the only ones. At Dell, we’ve pioneered the use of bamboo to protect certain devices. This giant member of the grass family, found in everything from food to flooring, is now also a sustainable packaging solution. We use it to cushion many of our lightweight products, including all laptops produced in China.

Why Bamboo?

Bamboo packaging helps reduce environmental impacts and promote a healthier planet.

  • It’s local — The bamboo used for our packaging grows close to the facilities that manufacture our products. This reduces our packaging-related carbon footprint.
  • It grows quickly — Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world. It can grow up to 24" (nearly 61 cm) a day. It can be harvested in just three to seven years — much faster than hardwoods. This makes bamboo highly renewable and a great alternative to foams, corrugate and molded paper pulp.
  • It’s strong and durable — Like steel, bamboo can withstand lots of stress while being stretched or pulled, which is why it’s used for boats, construction scaffolding and other items that require strength and flexibility. Because it’s so tough, we know it can protect your technology equipment effectively.
  • It’s a friend of the environment — Bamboo helps promote healthy soil. The plant’s deep root systems protect against soil erosion. When harvested correctly, bamboo doesn’t require replanting afterward. Plus, Dell bamboo packaging is biodegradable and can be composted after use."
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Mushrooms

In 2011 Dell launched packaging made out of mushrooms:

"Dell has been a leader in innovative packaging. Now, we’re going one step further by growing a new heavy packaging material that is sustainable and compostable. Yes, growing.

Mushroom packaging is our newest material. Our pilot program is the start of what we hope will be a new cushioning biotechnology that can serve as a new standard for the technology industry. 

Dell has already gone outside conventional wisdom with the introduction of bamboo packaging in 2009. It was a dramatic move away from polyethylene foam to a natural, sustainable product. However, it did have some limitations. Bamboo was sufficient for smaller products, such as laptops, the Streak tablet or Venue smartphones. It wasn’t suitable for larger products, such as desktops and servers.

The mushroom bioscience is based in using common agricultural waste products. Cotton hulls, rice hulls or wheat chaff are placed in a mold and injected with mushroom spawn. Five to ten days later, the mushroom root structure completes its growth, having utilized the energy inherent in the agricultural waste instead of external energy sources like petroleum. The final product looks and acts like Styrofoam — only this is organic, biodegradable and can be used as compost or mulch, which makes for easier and more environmental-friendly disposal."

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Wheat Straw

"Dell has been an innovator in using materials from nature for packaging, having already incorporated bamboo and mushrooms. Now, the next evolution in sustainable materials is wheat straw.

Wheat straw is the leftover canes after the wheat grains are harvested and is treated mostly as waste. As such, in some countries (like China) farmers burn it, contributing to air pollution and creating a public health hazard. However, a new initiative will upcycle this straw into the boxes Dell manufactures in China to ship products.

Taking another cue from nature, the wheat straw will be broken down with enzymes in a process similar to that found in a cow’s digestive system. This process will use approximately 40 percent less energy and almost 90 percent less water than traditional chemical pulping.

Afterwards, the resulting material is mixed with other fibers — primarily from recycled paper — and formed into new boxes. Initially, about 15 percent of the box material will be made of wheat straw, with that increasing as the program evolves. The boxes will look and perform like regular cardboard, and they will be recyclable at the end of their life.

Like bamboo, wheat is fast growing, making it a readily available renewable material."