Tangled cords, dead computer batteries and the laptop that had seen me through college piled up as I packed for an upcoming move. After searching for one-stop computer equipment recycling, I settled on the Reconnect program, a partnership between Dell and Goodwill Industries.
Through the program, Goodwill accepts old computer equipment — not just Dell products — at donation centers across the country. Elizabeth Johnson, who heads up Reconnect for Dell, provided more details on the program last week. Here are excerpts from our interview:
Why did Dell start this program? Was there a problem you were trying to solve?
Back in 2004, we decided we wanted to test out a new donation program with Goodwill. We started working with them here in central Texas. Our consumer recycling programs are a direct response to customer feedback. We wanted to make it easy and free and convenient for them to recycle their old equipment to be able to purchase new equipment from us. At the front-end purchasing, we let them know that we have a number of options available to them. We developed a portfolio of recycling options. Our most popular donation program is Reconnect, which is our partnership with Goodwill.
[Since 2004], it has grown significantly. Over the last six years, we’ve expanded the reach of the program across the U.S. and parts of Canada. There are well over 2,200 donation sites across the U.S. and Canada where consumers can donate any brand of computer equipment in any condition at no charge and Dell will ensure it is responsibly recycled.
What made Goodwill the ideal partner?
Goodwill is a not-for-profit organization that provides a tremendous service to the community. They help people with barriers to employment. We started the program here in central Texas where Dell is headquartered. The Goodwill here was interested in working with us, so we started here in our backyard to see if it would work. It’s been successful. We have created over 250 jobs, which is part of Goodwill’s mission. We’ve been able to help them solve some of what they’re trying to accomplish.
What happens to the old computer equipment that people bring to Goodwill?
Goodwill acts as a collector. Consumers can donate at any participating Goodwill across the U.S. and we will pick that equipment up. They consolidate it at a couple of locations to make it a bit easier. We’ll pick up a full truckload of equipment and transfer that to one of our environmental partners. We thoroughly vet and audit the recyclers that we use to make sure that none of the equipment ends up in a landfill and no e-waste is exported overseas to a developing country to become someone else’s problem.
What results has the Reconnect program had?
We’ve recycled over 170 million pounds. That’s been kept out of landfills and not diverted overseas.
We have an overarching goal that’s not limited to Reconnect collection. With all of our recycling programs, we have a goal of recycling 1 billion pounds by the year 2014. We’ll well on our way to that goal. We set our sights very high. We’re going to continue on and have strong programs to reach that. That’s not going to be the end of what we do. We’re going to continue beyond that. But that’s a publicly-stated goal that we have and we look forward to meeting that.
Was Dell the first company to establish a recycling program like this?
When we first started working with Goodwill a couple of years ago, this was certainly a new venture for Dell. We had goals for a nationwide donation program with Goodwill, but we had never worked with Goodwill on that level before. There was no precedent. There’s no other company that we were aware of that was operating a consumer recycling program where it was a for-profit company working with a not-for-profit company. We were testing this out to see how our customers would take to it. It has been very popular, which encouraged us to continue to grow the program. Since that time, we haven’t seen any evidence of other nationwide or programs on a trajectory toward a nationwide public-private partnership.
What’s next for Dell in the recycling arena?
Goodwill and Dell share a goal of wanting to have a nationwide program. We have approximately 62 percent of the individual, autonomous Goodwill centers participating with Dell today. Goodwill is a network of 166 individual organizations that run retail stores and donation centers. It’s not that one light switch turns them all on. Each member has their own CEO, president, board of directors. It’s an individual decision. We’re proud to have 62 percent of them participating with us. We have a goal of ultimately having 100 percent working with us. We will continue to expand the program. We don’t have specific timelines on when that’s going to be or specific locations identified yet. We’ve grown this steadily over the last six years and we’ll continue to do that.
Photo: Elizabeth Johnson / Dell