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Dell to offer at-home recycling pickup

The PC maker announces its new Dell Recycling program, which offers consumers a $15 at-home pickup service for dispatching old PCs for donation or recycling.

Dell Computer is bringing PC recycling to your doorstep.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker announced on Wednesday its new Dell Recycling program, effective in the United States, that offers consumers a $15 at-home pickup service for dispatching old PCs for donation or recycling.

Dell's goal with the program is to make the process of recycling or donating easier and less expensive, to encourage more consumers to avoid simply throwing away their machines, the company said.

Dell executives said the program, which kicks off March 25, costs less and is more convenient than its current recycling program, which requires people to deliver the PC to a post office or other facility to be mailed. The new program will accept any brand of PC, not just Dell machines.

The new, easier-to-use program will apparently be needed if Dell wants to recycle nearly as many PCs as it sells. So far, the company--which sold about 6 million PCs in the fourth quarter of 2002 alone, according to IDC--has recycled only 2 million PCs in the 12 years since it began its first recycling program, the company said.

But "We think if we can make it easier and more convenient, more people will recycle," John Hamlin, senior vice president of Dell's U.S. consumer business, said in a conference call with reporters. "You don't need to get in your car and take it somewhere. Just leave it on the porch, and someone will pick it up."

The $15 fee covers up to 50 pounds of equipment, such as a CPU, monitor and peripherals, packed in a single box. A second or third box would require additional $15 fees. Consumers must supply the box. Dell's previous program cost about $20 to $50.

A Hewlett-Packard representative said HP's recycling program has included the option of doorstep pickup for the past two years. Both HP and Dell have been to encourage customers to recycle their unwanted gear.

Dell will collect the fee and arrange for pickup via its recycling Web site. The company will use Airborne Express to pick up the old PCs. People using the program can designate whether their old machine will be recycled or donated.

Despite some criticism, Dell will continue to use its partner Unicor--also known as Federal Prison Industries--to recycle the machines. Donated PCs will go to the National Cristina Foundation.

The foundation redistributes the old PCs it receives to organizations like boys and girls clubs or schools. But Unicor, which uses federal prison inmates to disassemble old PCs, has been criticized for allegedly providing unsafe working conditions.

Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a group that monitors environmental and health problems related to the high-technology industry, has criticized Unicor, and Dell for using the firm.

"A colleague and I recently visited the United State Penitentiary in Atwater (Calif.) and were appalled to discover inmates using hammers and crude hand tools to smash cathode ray tubes and other hazardous electronics containing hazardous materials," Smith wrote in a letter to Dell CEO Michael Dell.

The organization also distributed the same letter, dated March 18, to a number of media outlets, including CNET

Dell defended its decision to use Unicor, saying it helped Dell offer the lowest-cost recycling program.

"We believe that's the right partner to make this affordable and easier for our customers, " Hamlin said, when asked about Unicor. Unicor "is a voluntary program. It's safe?and we believe it'll ultimately lead to more recycling," he said.

Dell also announced on Wednesday a new five-city recycling tour that will run from April 5 to April 27. The tour will provide one-day events where customers can bring in their old machines to be recycled or donated free of charge. The tour begins in Nashville, Tenn., and proceeds to Columbus, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Portland, Ore., concluding in Austin, Texas.

"Our goal is to collect at least 100 tons of obsolete and unwanted systems," Hamlin said.

Hamlin also promised several other Dell recycling announcements in the near future.