What Goes Around, Comes Full Circle

The idea started with a photo on a tour of a partner’s recycling facility – a large pile of aluminium harvested from old hard disk drives sat unused. Combine this image with an engineer’s passion to source sustainable materials and we started to think, how can we close the loop and re-use this material in our products?  This is a question we ask ourselves a lot. With part of our moonshot goal to get to 50 per cent of all products to be made from recycled or renewable materials by the year 2030, we are always looking for new materials and processes to get us there. And with aluminium in the top five most used materials by volume in our product, this idea was exciting. Using recycled materials is a critical way for Dell Technologies to minimise its environmental impact. In fact, recycling aluminium saves more than 90 per cent of the energy needed to make new aluminium, meaning lower emissions and carbon footprint.

With our focus on accelerating circular design, rethinking a closed-loop approach for the aluminium in our products was right in our wheelhouse. We also have a strong track record of partnering with others in the industry to drive innovative processes and share best practices. Our existing partnerships with Reconext and Seagate Technology, were a great place to start, having worked with them to launch a in 2019. This program has since shipped over 8,600 kilograms of recovered magnets for recycling which are used not only in new Dell products but even competitor products, too. Because the idea is to scale up magnet recovery for the industry, not just for our own benefit!

The process we partnered on takes aluminium from old drives returned via our recycling programs to create a base plate for new hard disk drives. Why? Because the base plate is one of the largest aluminium-containing components in a hard disk drive, allowing us to use this recycled material in a big way.

For the initial pilot, we are using these new drives in select OptiPlex 7090 Small Form Factor and Mini Towers. OptiPlex was the perfect choice for this new closed-loop material as it was our very first – and the industry’s first – computer to ‘close the loop’ on plastics from recycled electronics in 2014. Again, this makes the OptiPlex 7090 Tower and 7090 Small Form Factor the world’s first PCs available with closed-loop recycled aluminium in the hard drive (20  per cent by weight).[1] Creating closed-loop recycled plastic was a lift-off moment for Dell Technologies. To date, we created over 45 million kilograms of recycled plastic parts and used closed-loop plastic on more than 125 different product lines. And we aren’t just interested in plastic, we’ve also recovered more than 950 million kilograms of e-waste for responsible recycling or reuse in our products.

What this means is that these new OptiPlex products contain both plastics and metals from recycled technology, while providing the same durability, reliability, and security that our customers expect. A second shipment of recycled aluminium is now on its way into the supply chain, and we are investigating opportunities to scale usage to additional drives and beyond.

The new OptiPlex products and closed-loop aluminium are the latest examples of Dell Technologies’ commitment to driving the circular economy and protect the planet. To get to that 2030 moonshot goal, we need to leave no stone unturned, no recycled or renewable material not explored.

One photo and the wheels started turning. You never know what will inspire the next innovation.

[1] Based on internal analysis, April 2021.  20% closed-loop recycled aluminium by weight in the 2TB 3.5” hard drive, optional on the OptiPlex 7090 Tower and 7090 Small Form Factor.

About the Author: Allison Ward

Senior Engineer, Environmental Affairs, Dell Technologies