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Dell puts a number on its recycling efforts

The company aims to increase the amount of computer gear it collects for recycling by 50 percent during its fiscal 2005.

Dell wants to boost the amount of computer gear it takes back for recycling.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Wednesday made public its plans to increase the amount of materials it collects by 50 percent, by weight, during fiscal 2005. Dell said that during its fiscal 2004, which ended Jan. 30, it collected 35 million pounds of computer gear for recycling.

As previously reported, Dell is the first large PC maker to offer up its recycling efforts to public and industry scrutiny. Its actions could prompt other PC makers to follow, helping establish a universal measure--most likely weight--for tracking the recycling of computer equipment, according to environmental activists such as the Calvert Group, an investment fund company that worked with Dell to help the PC maker establish its goals. Calvert and others have been advocating for all PC manufacturers to make their recycling goals public.

Dell arrived at the 35 million-pound mark by collecting computers for recycling or donation via its consumer recycling program, which lets people sign up online to have their computer gear picked up from their doorstep. It also collected computers through its asset recovery service for business, government and education customers; recycling events where it collected old computers; lease returns; and customer returns, the company said in a statement.

Dell also included equipment the company itself had retired. The Dell-owned equipment and customer returns made up about 50 percent of the weight volume recovered by Dell in the previous year, the statement said, while the remaining categories combined to form the other 50 percent.

Dell isn't the only one that takes back PCs. Hewlett-Packard and IBM also have large recycling programs.

HP said it expects to break down about 42 million pounds of PCs, printers and other gear during its fiscal 2004. That's an increase of about 3 million pounds from the prior year, Renee St. Denis, manager of HP's recycling program for the Americas, said in a recent interview.

IBM Global Financing, which handles recycling and asset recovery for Big Blue, increased the number of PCs it took back from 15,000 per week in 2002 to 22,000 per week in 2003, a company representative said recently. That means that IBM took back 780,000 PCs in 2002 and about 1.1 million PCs in 2003, years during which it shipped 8 million and 9 million units, respectively, according to IDC.

Dell, HP and IBM all make it fairly easy for consumers and businesses to recycle computer gear by offering consumers at-home pickup for PCs and related equipment and also providing services that remove old PCs from businesses. IBM even offers to purchase some unwanted equipment from businesses, assuming that the company can resell it.

Dell's recycling service normally costs $15 per item, weighing up to 50 pounds. Dell estimates that when combined, a typical desktop PC and cathode ray tube monitor weigh about 72 pounds, which adds up to about $30.

HP's recycling Web site quotes a cost of $46 to dispose of the same combination. Although their prices differ, the companies frequently offer specials. Right now, HP is awarding its recyclers with coupons for HPshopping.com, for example, and Dell is offering its recycling service at half the price, or $7.50 per item.

IBM offers several recycling options, including a $30 service that allows a person to send back a single PC and monitor, according to its Web site.

Meanwhile, PC makers and also state and federal legislators have been working on ways to solve the larger problem posed by old or unwanted PCs in the United States. Dell, HP and others such as Best Buy have run numerous single-day recycling events that collect computer equipment. Dell plans to host four more of the events this summer in locations such as Boston and Los Angeles. Last year, it collected several hundred tons of material, including more than 200 tons at an event in Denver.

Although such events can get some PCs out of people's attics or closets, they aren't the best answer to a sustained recycling effort, Pat Nathan, Dell's Sustainable Business director, said in a recent interview.

PC recycling may be best addressed up-front, with Dell building recycling costs into the price of its PCs. This method would allow customers to simply return a Dell PC to the company for donation or recycling when they're through with it.

"I think we all agree we're going to need a solution that's not going to allow people to opt out," she said.

Calvert began pushing Dell to address PC recycling during 2002. At that time, Calvert said Dell's failure to address the risks and liabilities of electronic waste could hurt Dell shareholders.