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Dell to set PC recycling goals

The PC maker says it will set those goals by March 2004 and then begin publishing results from its program via its Web site and in an environmental report it issues annually.

Dell Computer has long been glad to tally the number of PCs it ships to customers. Now it's going to count up those it takes back.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Tuesday said it was working with the Calvert Group, a firm that offers "socially responsible" mutual funds, and several likeminded groups to set goals for and then publish the results of its product recycling program.

Dell said it will set those goals by March 2004 and then begin publishing results from its program via its Web site and in an environmental report it issues annually.

The move to set goals and make results public is a step forward for environmentalists, who are concerned about the amount of waste generated by the high-tech industry, said Julie Frieder, environmental analyst at Calvert. The mutual fund company began prodding Dell about recycling last year, saying that failure to address the potential "e-waste" hazards posed risks and liabilities that could hurt shareholders.

So far, PC recycling has had a lackluster track record, with estimates showing that only between 10 percent and 30 percent of PCs sold annually are being recycled, said Cathie Hargett, a Dell representative. Dell, which has sold tens of millions of PCs since its inception, said last month that it has only recycled 2 million PCs in the 12 years since it began its first recycling program.

But the company has taken a more active role in recycling recently, launching a new at-home pickup service for castoff PCs, monitors and other computer equipment. The at-home service costs $15 per 50-pound box. Dell also offers a service that recycles old printers for customers who buy one of its new printers. The printer recycling is built into the price of its new models. Dell offers a similar program for printer supplies, such as ink cartridges.

Through these programs, Dell has committed to making recycling cheaper and easier for its customers, Hargett said. She added, though, that Dell could do more to promote them.

"In order to drive significant participation in recycling, we've got to step forward and establish meaningful targets," Hargett said.

Besides agreeing to lay out recycling goals, Dell will also agree to disclose publicly what happens to the PCs it takes back and how they are handled. Environmentalists have raised alarms about the threat of computers from the industrialized world being dumped on Asian nations.

The company will reveal how the components from recycled computers are used, allowing people to find out, for example, whether they were reused or put into a landfill. Dell also agreed to verify that its recycling partners comply with health and safety standards equivalent to those set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and that they do not do not export waste materials to developing countries, according to San Francisco-based Calvert.

Dell is the first major PC manufacturer to commit to establishing public goals for its recycling program, Calvert said, but there may be more announcements soon. Calvert has been working with several other computer manufacturers, including Apple Computer, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, since last year to address their plans for managing disposal of old products. HP, IBM and others have launched recycling programs for consumers in recent years, and have long had take-back services for corporate customers.

"We're at a point where they're all considering (something similar). They just haven't publicly come out and said they were going to commit to some goals," Frieder said.