What Goes Around, Comes Full Circle

The new OptiPlex portfolio will offer first of its kind hard drives made from closed loop recycled aluminum.

The idea started with a photo on a tour of a partner’s recycling facility – a large pile of aluminum 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?

With our focus on accelerating circular design, rethinking a closed-loop approach for the aluminum 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 recycled rare-earth magnet program in 2019. This program has since shipped over 19,000 pounds 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 aluminum 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 aluminum-containing components in a hard disk drive, allowing us to use this recycled material in a big way.

Chart showing steps of aluminum recycling for Dell Optiplex hard drives.

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 aluminum in the hard drive (20% by weight).¹ Creating closed-loop recycled plastic was a lift-off moment for Dell. To date, we created over 100 million pounds 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 2.1 billion pounds 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 aluminum 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 aluminum 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 aluminum by weight in the 2TB 3.5” hard drive, optional on the OptiPlex 7090 Tower and 7090 Small Form Factor.

Allison Ward

About the Author: Allison Ward

Allison Ward is a Regulatory Senior Engineer on Dell’s North American Environmental Affairs team. She joined Dell in 2018 after a great summer internship experience in sustainable packaging. With a background in both material science engineering and supply chain development, she specializes in circular materials programs to support Dell's Advancing Sustainability 2030 Moonshot Goals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Material Science Engineering and a Master’s degree in Industrial Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, traveling, and searching for treasures at local second-hand shops.