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.
Wheat straw 
Like bamboo, wheat is fast growing, making it a readily available renewable material. That has allowed us to react to increases in the cost of bamboo by increasing our use of wheat straw. We used 800 percent more wheat straw in FY15 than in FY14 while maintaining the same environmental and performance benefits.

We are using approximately 200 tons of wheat straw will be used annually, reducing an estimated 180 tons of CO2 emissions (about the same amount of carbon fixed by nearly 150 acres of forest). The wheat straw program is part of our bigger goal of establishing a waste-free packaging stream by 2020. Dell will do this by:
  • 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.
Dell’s 2020 packaging goals build on what we’ve already accomplished. In 2012, Dell achieved the ambitious goals set out in its 3Cs (cube, content, curb) packaging strategy by reducing the size of desktop and notebook 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 strategy eliminated more than 20 million pounds of packaging material and saved $18 million in just four years.

Dell was the first technology company to use bamboo cushions to replace foam in shipping lightweight products such as notebooks. We are also experimenting with mushrooms as an organic alternative to foam for heavier products such as servers. Both materials are either recyclable or compostable.