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Check your package: Dell expands use of bamboo for internal cushioning

Check your package: Dell expands use of bamboo for internal cushioning

Posting in Design

Company aims to boost the amount of recyclable content in its packaging by 75 percent by 2012.

Technology giant Dell has been transitioning to bamboo for some of its internal packaging for some time, but now the company has received a certification designating that packaging as "compostable." In short, it's easier to discard and break down that was previously realized.

Oliver Campbell, worldwide senior manager of packaging for Dell, says his team has three primary aims when it comes to sustainable packaging: Making sure boxes are as small as possible, ensuring that the content and materials are as sustainable as possible, and ensure that packages can be easily recycled. Today's announcement falls into the latter category: The packaging has received an American Society for Testing and Materials D-6400 certification. That means it will biodegrade at an expected and acceptable rate when it it is added to a hot, active compost pile.

Dell began using bamboo packaging within some of its netbooks back in November, and Campbell said approximately 48 percent of the Inspiron products now are cushioned with bamboo. Over time, a number of the products that are sourced in China -- where bamboo is indigenous -- will be transitioned over to bamboo packaging, although the material isn't appropriate for some of Dell's heavier systems. At least not yet.

Campbell said one big upside of using bamboo is that it grows at an extremely fast rate, which means that it is "rapidly renewable." (Grows up to 24 inches per day and reaches full harvest potential in three to seven years.) The company has taken pains to make sure its materials are sourced from places in China where harvesting the bamboo won't be harmful to panda habitats, Campbell says. Bamboo is strong, with a tensile strength similar to that of steel.

The toughest challenge with using new packaging, according to Campbell, is that sometimes consumers/customers don't know whether or not a certain material is recyclable. When it came to bamboo, Dell ran at least two community tests of this. The first time, it didn't pass. So, businesses that are moving to newer materials need to ensure that the materials they are consider can be properly accommodated within existing waste management processes, Campbell says.

Bamboo won't be appropriate everywhere. For example, for products that are assembled or manufactured in other countries, Campbell said Dell is researching different sustainable options, such as pulp made from sugar cane and those based on some rice bioproducts. Overall, the company's goal is to reduce packaging volume by 10 percent by 2012. Also in that timeframe, it plans to increase the amount of recycled materials in its packages by 40 percent and boost the amount of materials that can be recycled curbside by 75 percent.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure