PCs stripped bare

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Tuesday, 18 December, 2007

On a small industrial estate in the western suburbs of Sydney, one factory is doing more for the environment than many others twice its size. At first glance the building looks like any other, but behind its bland façade lies one of the most significant recycling plants in Australia; this is where old PCs come to die or more importantly where they come to be stripped bare and their components sold on or recycled. As the IT industry becomes more focused on gaining green credentials, companies like Dell say they are well ahead of the pack.

According to Dell, Australians are among the fastest adopters of new technology in the world with close to 3.5 million new computers bought in 2007. From that amount Dell estimates that over 1.6 million will end up in tips as landfill while the other 1.8 million are put into spare rooms and garages. Out of the 3.5 million or so computers bought, only 500,000 will be recycled. In a report issued in 2006, The Australian Bureau of Statistics called this 'e-waste' one of Australia's fastest growing waste types.

Paul McKeon, corporate communications manager for Dell Australia and New Zealand says that PCs contain materials which can and should be recycled and reused.

"Until recently, there have been relatively few options to help computer users dispose of unwanted machines responsibly," he says.

"I think I can say without fear of contradiction that no company in Australia has done more to deliver practical action and drive awareness on that issue since 2003 than Dell."

"We believe we have a responsibility to take back the products we make and sell and we've argued that others do too," he says.

Dell's record on environment solutions is impressive. In 2007, Dell announced a program called the Zero Carbon Initiative, which Dell says will continue to maximise the energy efficiency of their products and over time offset their carbon impact. The company also committed to reduce the carbon intensity of its global operations by 15% by 2010.

The recycling plant in western Sydney that Dell contract to is owned and operated by MRI, a recycling company that provides end-of-life and end-of-use solutions to individuals and businesses.

"Computer, IT and telecommunications equipment does not need to be dumped at its end of life (EOL)," says William Le Messurier, director of MRI.

"This equipment contains elements such as gold, silver, copper and lead. All valuable commodities and in some instances hazardous."

"We comply with all relevant state and federal laws on the processing and disposal of hazardous waste generated from recycling operations. For most products we're able to achieve diversion from landfill of up to 97%," he says.

In 2002, comparisons between PCs and other e-waste streams pre and post recycling found that in comparison with products like whitegoods, small appliances and mobile phones, PCs accounted for 51% of landfill.

Le Messurier says that while recycling does divert equipment from landfill, some models need not be recycled.

"They may either be rebuilt or stripped for valuable componentary, with greater returns to customer and the environment," he says adding that the facilities in Sydney and Melbourne are ISO 9002 compliant for the remanufacture of telecommunications equipment, PCs and their associated peripherals.

McKeon says that recycling PCs, while important, is only one part of the process.

"Dell is continuing to design products with the environment in mind; with the focus on energy efficiency, eliminating or reducing the use of environmentally sensitive materials, products to use fewer materials and improved recyclability," he says.

"We all agree the goal is the same and that is to increase recycling rates in Australia."

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