Dell has a solid history as a leader in both recycling and design for recyclability. Today, with the establishment of a new closed-loop recycled plastics supply chain, Dell is moving toward a true circular economy for technology with real benefits to customers and the planet alike.

What is closed-loop?

Closed-loop systems are the backbone of a circular economy – one which looks to keep materials engaged in a circular way, recycled and reused throughout rather than used once and turned into waste. Recycling is the engine of this process, but poor design can limit recoverability. That’s one reason Dell puts a premium on designing for recyclability and was proud to receive ISRI’s 2014 Design for Recycling award.

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Click to view our closed-loop recycling process

When something gets recycled, a common misconception is that it gets easily and immediately turned right back into the same thing it was. The reality is many materials are “downcycled,” meaning they are converted into new materials that are usually of a lesser quality or reduced functionality. Closed-loop systems, however, recycle and reuse materials repeatedly. This reduces the need for virgin materials while avoiding the creation of waste.

A key component of closed-loop systems is the idea that recycling comes from the same product or same industry. In the case of Dell, this means recycling computers back into new computers. We have used recycled-content plastics derived from water bottles and other plastic sources for some time in our monitors and OptiPlex desktops. Our closed-loop system uses plastics derived from the computers we take back.

How Dell does closed-loop recycling

With the launch of the OptiPlex 3030 All-in-One, Dell became the first in the industry to offer a computer made with third party-certified closed-loop recycled plastics. The process begins with customers who recycle their old systems through our take-back efforts. In the pilot project, we are separating out plastics collected through Dell Reconnect partners in seven U.S. states.

The plastics are separated into types and shipped to our manufacturing partners in China. Meanwhile, other materials from the computers are similarly recycled and separated, then sold on the commodities market for reuse by others.

When the plastics arrive, they are shredded at the manufacturing facilities, melted and blended (currently 35 percent recycled-content), then molded into new parts.

With the OptiPlex 3030, this includes the stand and the back plate of the computer/monitor. These parts are then assembled into the final computer.

The OptiPlex 3030 is the first product certified by UL Environment to their closed-loop standard, with the result that at least 10 percent of the product is made of closed-loop plastics.

Benefits of our closed-loop plastics supply chain

One thing customers frequently explain is that they want products that are better for the environment, but they don’t want to pay more and it cannot affect performance. The closed-loop plastics supply chain delivers exactly that – in fact, the closed-loop process delivers an energy-efficient product made from recycled content that is nominally less expensive, with the potential to show greater cost savings as the program scales.

Other benefits kick in as we scale: lifecycle analysis shows the process could potentially produce 62 percent fewer carbon emissions as the percentage blended increases. As this pilot project further expands it will help Dell capture other materials like metals for closed-loop recycling. Additionally, as recycling and take-back efforts increase, we can increase the number of products made using this process.