A significant shift seen in consumer behaviour when it comes to purchasing a product or service, has been the move toward conscious purchases that contribute to a sustainable future. When it comes to buying tech, sustainability has evolved from being a "checklist item" to an important consideration as the reliance on technology grows.
According to a recent survey conducted by Bain and Company, 60% of Indian consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. In the context of PCs, however, consumers frequently face a dilemma in balancing sustainability and high performance. So, how do we bring the two together?
Repurposing waste to make technology sustainable can be an effective solution for producing products that are long-lasting and perform well. While this process necessitates innovative R&D, it also requires practical problem-solving in collaboration with material suppliers. Here are some ideas for designing PCs for circularity, paving the way for consumers to strike the right balance between sustainability and performance.
Let’s start at the moment when an electronic device is no longer wanted by its original user. Maybe it has reached the end of its functional life, or the customer is just ready for something new. The first step would be to assess the device for potential reuse. In case the product is unrepairable, then the viable components can be repurposed for use in other devices.
The next stage after assessing components for harvest/reuse is material recycling. For example, the rare-earth magnets from the hard drive, plastic from a laptop's casing, or parts of a broken monitor screen can find new life in an entirely new computer. Another valuable material, copper, can be recycled and utilized in the production of power adapter cables, reducing the reliance on virgin materials, and diverting copper waste from landfills. "Open-loop" recycling involves incorporating materials obtained from other industries. For instance, reclaimed carbon fiber from the aviation industry -- typically a waste product – can be repurposed in the manufacturing of laptop covers, effectively reducing the need for new carbon fibre production. An interesting fact: carbon fiber makes laptops thinner and lighter - a fitting example of sustainability + performance.
Plastic pollution is a problem we are familiar with. The amount of plastic waste in the world's oceans is an increasingly global concern. According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, an estimated 170 trillion plastic particles weighing approximately 2 million metric tonnes are currently afloat in the world's oceans. To address this, we must take concrete and collective steps to intercept and recycle waste, and convert it into valuable resources.
NextWave Plastics, a consortium of like-minded companies and founded by Dell Technologies, is working together to build a commercially viable and scalable supply chain to intercept ocean-bound plastic. Through this initiative, plastic waste is actively collected from within 50 kilometres of oceans and waterways, and this recycled ocean-bound plastics are then repurposed into technology devices, including OptiPlex, Precision and Latitude products, as well as packaging and soft goods.
Is that even possible? To answer in short, yes.
Exploring the use of various sustainable materials allows us to discover new possibilities and push the limits of sustainable design. Using tree-based bioplastics from the paper-making process reduces reliance on traditional plastics derived from fossil fuels, while demonstrating the possibility of alternative sources for commonly used materials. Castor beans, a non-food renewable resource used to make bioplastics for certain PC components, are another novel material that we use in lieu of traditional, virgin materials during the design and manufacturing process.
While incorporating these materials into products is critical, it is also important to prioritise the use of sustainable materials in packaging to make packaging more sustainable. This includes the use of recycled and renewable paper fibres derived from bamboo, sugar cane, and recycled corrugate. Dell used 155.5 million kilogrammes (343.3 million pounds) of sustainable materials in its products and packaging in FY23, with recycled or renewable materials accounting for 94.5% of Dell's packaging.
The future we envision, requires industry and consumer partnership. We must recognise that now is the time to deliver a greater positive impact on business, people, and their relationship to the environment. While the advantages are numerous, it will help brands develop meaningful relationships with their customers, while also demonstrating how sustainability can be a key driver of innovation.
Allison Ward is sustainable materials engineer, experience design group, Dell Technologies. The views expressed are those of the author.
Also read: E-waste: A second life for digital debris