updated 01:10 pm EDT, Wed May 13, 2009
Dell bans ewaste exports
Dell has announced its tightened recycling policies that prohibit e-waste exports to developing countries. The company aims to prevent items such as computers, components and monitors from being shipped to countries that lack stringent environmental regulations, worker safety standards or effective enforcement. The amount of electronics items processed through its recycling program exceeds 290 million pounds through a period of approximately five years.
Greenpeace scientists last year claimed to have uncovered several sites in Ghana that showed extreme levels of contamination. Soil and groundwater tests indicated levels of toxins over one hundred times greater than what is found in nature. Dangerous chemicals included lead, phthalates that can interfere with child development, and chlorinated dioxins. The activist group specifically named Dell devices amongst the list of items found in the scrap yards.
The recycling sites extract valuable metals from the components, but many of the scrap yards simply crush and burn the materials to obtain the metals. Reports claim even children are employed at a number of locations, sometimes working with their bare hands while being exposed to toxic fumes.
"This is very significant announcement," said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics Takeback Coalition, according to the Associated Press. "It may seem like nuance, but what Dell's doing is drawing a very sharp and clear line and saying they won't cross it, in a way that is just much brighter and clearer than the way anyone else does it."
Under pressure from environmental groups, many companies have announced plans to expand recycling operations, remove toxic chemicals from products and reduce packaging waste. Last year Dell began to reduce box sizes and intends to use recyclable materials for up to 75 percent of the packaging.
Apple recently rose four spots to the tenth position in the Greenpeace rankings. All of the company's major products, excluding power cords, are said to be free of PVC and brominated fire retardants (BFRs), although the threshold limits for achieving chemical-free status are described as "unreasonably high."
Despite Dell's recent announcement, Greenpeace still criticizes the company for stepping away from commitments to eliminate PVCs and BFRs by the end of 2009. While several companies pushed the goal back to 2010, Dell and HP eliminated an official deadline.