Dell and Trek Bikes, among others, are working on building out a supply chain of ocean-bound plastics.
You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing remarkable about the plastic packaging trays that hold new laptops inside their cardboard boxes. But this year, Dell transformed those banal objects into an experiment in rescuing and reusing 16,000 pounds of plastic this year that otherwise would’ve ended up in the oceans.
In April, the tech company rolled out the first round of its recycled plastic trays, which were created with a mix of rescued ocean plastic (25%) and other recycled plastics (75%). Using recycled materials is nothing new for Dell–since 2008, following the launch of an electronics recycling initiative, the company has to date incorporated more than 50 million pounds of repurposed plastics into its products.
It’s one thing for Dell to set up a circular-economy system that repurposes materials from its old products into newer models. But incorporating ocean-bound plastics required the company to step outside the sphere of its own products and build out an entirely new supply chain.
To do so, Dell worked with the Lonely Whale, an ocean advocacy foundation founded by the actor Adrian Grenier, and focused on reducing the volume of plastic in the oceans, which currently totals around 8 million tons per year. Dell first conducted a feasibility study in Haiti in 2016 to determine if and how the company could collect enough plastic from oceans and waterways, and to figure out how to wash and treat the collected materials in order to integrate it into their supply chain. The initial work in Haiti, says Oliver Campbell, Dell’s director of procurement for packaging, proved the concept, and gave Dell a sense of how this kind of effort could be scaled: They learned, for instance, that it’s more productive to focus on intercepting plastic while it’s still on land, rather than fishing it out of the seas.
Since that initial study, Dell and the Lonely Whale have shifted their focus to building out a supply chain of intercepted ocean plastics in Indonesia–one of the countries in the world with the largest accumulation of marine debris.
Establishing that supply chain is not a simple task. Dell and the Lonely Whale are partnering with global NGOs and on-the-ground recycled-materials suppliers in the Jakarta area, whom they will vet to ensure that the people actually responsible for clearing out plastic from the shores and waterways are paid well and treated ethically. They will also have to ensure that the recycling infrastructure in Indonesia can clean and process the marine plastics such that they can be repurposed into usable materials.
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