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Fighting e-waste with Dell corporate savvy and art (Includes interview and first-hand account)

I’ve covered Von Wong’s work before. He and his friends make a habit of doing extraordinary things with whatever topic he’s working on, whether it’s socks or buildings. I had the chance to interview him, and through him, Dell, about this major, very necessary, initiative.
Benjamin Von Wong interview


Benjamin Von Wong

You built a vortex of laptops, a solar farm, and portals out of e-junk which looks like Steampunk Updated; the design process must have been a lot of fun?
It’s always fun when you’re given a large amount of material to play with and very little constraints. Collaborating with Dell was particularly fun because they had no requests other than to make something that was positive and that showcased the potential of the past to power the future!
140,000 computers per day is a trainload. So all of this stuff goes in to a slap-happy 60 year old, outdated, landfill system, with no built-in salvage? Surely just basic greed would get someone trying to access these materials, particularly the gold?
The stuff that we used specifically come from Dell’s Global Recycling Program – ie. Things already slated to be recycled.
Companies like Dell unfortunately don’t have any control over what the user does with their devices when they decide to get rid of them. Since consumers in many countries around the world don’t pay a recycling tax on their electronics, there is very little incentive to recycle. After all, the consumer isn’t getting any financial kick-back from doing the right thing.
In poorer countries, landfills are picked through by hand to find these things of value – unfortunately that results in both an environmental and humanitarian crisis… The best would be just for people to recycle responsibly! (note: this is just a personal opinion though… and I’m not an expert on the field)
The Black Hole of Keyboards pic is a bit of a classic, particularly when you see something very like your own keyboard, like I did, in the mix. It’s one heck of an image in terms of modern life, Dali with Keyboards. How did that image come to life?
Heh, I was imagining it more like a particle accelerator rather than a black hole but… the general idea (with all images) was to make them look like they were somehow powering the future, hence the “levitating girl and laptop”!
Dell was obviously very helpful for this project. The electronics industry doesn’t exactly have an image as green and caring. Were you surprised that a major league manufacturer would be so committed to recycling?
When I learned that Dell was the largest global recycler on the planet, I wanted to highlight the good work that they were doing! Too often, we like to focus on the negative instead of encouraging the positive!
Through Benjamin, I also had the opportunity to interview Carly Tatum of Dell. A little research had shown me how vast this operation is. You’d think such a huge effort would get a lot more acknowledgement from the green movement, but apparently not?
Let’s get this straight – The world MUST be on the same page about pollution and waste management at ALL levels. Dell are putting big money where their stated policies are, and they deserve credit for it. This is the systematic way to manage big waste, and it works. That’s the only way the world will survive its waste problems.
Dell Interview
I got some damn good answers to my questions from Dell, too:
Dell has a global network of recycling initiatives. What sort of response are you getting, and how does the response equate to the volume of e-waste?
As we just kicked the project off this week, it’s too early to measure volumes we’ve driven. In general, our awareness efforts like this and others have helped us stay on track to collecting 2 billion pounds of e-waste by 2020, a goal we established back in 2013 as part of our Legacy of Good program. We’ve recycled 1.8 billion pounds of used electronics (88% way toward our goal).
How would you describe the electronics manufacturing sector’s participation in recycling? Progressive, full-on involvement, slow, barely trying, or what?
This is not new for Dell. The company has had global recycling in place since 2004. We now have the world’s largest technology recycling program with recycling services for consumers and business in 83 countries and territories. We were the first to ban export of e-waste to developing countries in 2009 and the first to start “closing the loop” on electronics, putting used computer parts back into our supply chain to make new products. We’ve since scaled this across 92 Dell products, and repurposed 22 million pounds of recycled e-waste plastic.
Dell is one of the largest, most influential manufacturers in the world, and it’s taking this initiative in the face of almost universal ignorance of the risks and values of e-waste recycling. What are the obstacles to getting this very necessary perspective about e-waste in the faces of people who need to know? Is it just a throwaway culture, or real, built-in economic inefficiency?
Consumer awareness and education is a major obstacle. As the middle class continues to grow, demand for technology will only increase, and resources will become more scarce. Accelerating a circular model for the tech industry is the only way forward.
As toxic waste goes, e-waste is up there with the worst for plastics, in particular. Any moves to use recyclable polymers, or something else from the last 40 years of better tech?
Dell continues to find new innovative opportunities to create value from waste. From reclaiming carbon fiber from aerospace, to upcycling ocean-bound plastic into packaging to recycling gold from motherboards into new products, we are finding more efficient ways to run our business.
What sort of support is Dell getting from environmental and recycling groups?
We are engaged in many cross-sector collaborations on the topic of recycling and circular economy. We are actively involved in The Ellen McArthur Foundation, and most recently we joined the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, a public/private initiative to cut waste and pollution which includes involvement from UN Environment and the World Bank. The EPA continually ranks Dell GOLD for our recycling programs.
There is always more we can do to get the word out, which is why we partner with unique voices outside of our industry like Ben to find new ways of engaging the public.
Dell recycling in your region
Search for Dell recycling in your community or at national level. See also Dell’s very useful Environment page for more information about their initiatives.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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