This is a story about how a Hollywood celebrity convinced Dell Technologies to start using recycled ocean plastics in its computer packaging.
Two years ago, Dell hired actor Adrian Grenier to be its “social good advocate,” which means he gets paid to help Dell promote its efforts to become more environmentally-friendly, and Round Rock-based Dell provides him with technology to support his own environmental efforts.
When Dell held a brainstorming session with Grenier about a year and a half ago at its Parmer Lane campus, he suggested the tech company take a closer look at the problem of plastics polluting the ocean.
That evolved into a discussion about whether Dell could use recycled ocean plastics for its computer packaging, said Oliver Campbell, director of packaging and procurement at Dell.
Dell currently is using bamboo for some of its computer packaging, a material that is recyclable.
But even celebrities face limits to their influence.
Initially, Campbell said, the idea wasn’t warmly embraced at Dell. But Campbell liked the idea and started pitching it to his boss.
He didn’t gain much traction until his boss’s daughter needed to write a paper for a science competition. Her topic? Ocean plastics. Campbell was asked to help her.
“I was able to see my boss’s attitude on this really shift,” Campbell said. “He started to understand what was at stake with the ocean.”
Campbell got the green light last year to pursue the idea.
The amount of plastics seeping its way into our oceans is staggering. A study published in Science magazine in 2015 estimates that 8 million tons of plastics entered the ocean in 2010.
Mostly the plastic comes from countries like Haiti, the Philippines or Vietnam where there aren’t robust trash and recycling programs.
Under Dell’s new program, the company contracts with a recycling company that picks up discarded plastics in Haiti.
Campbell explains that it’s difficult to actually pull plastic from the ocean to recycle because it usually disintegrates into small pieces, so Dell’s work is aimed at preventing plastic from ever entering the ocean.
Those plastics are then sorted, cleaned and compressed into pellets.
Those pellets are given to one of Dell’s primary packaging suppliers, a company called Veritiv, which blends the ocean plastic with other recycled plastics and molds it into packaging material.
Dell plans to roll out the new packaging material on April 30 with its XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop, which can also be used a a tablet. Dell is calling this a “pilot program,” but says it hopes to use the same packaging on its other products.
Campbell says this isn’t a publicity stunt for Dell.
“It’s not limited edition. It’s going into production,” Campbell said.
What’s in it for Dell? It certainly generates good public relations for the company.
But it’s also part of the company’s push to become more environmentally-friendly, with a specific corporate goal of 100 percent of its packaging being “sustainably sourced,” Campbell said.
The company says it is 93 percent of the way there - if you count packaging by weight.
Dell says in 2017, this ocean plastics pilot program will keep 16,000 pounds of plastic from entering the ocean.
The tech company says it’s also a sound business strategy because it’s cheaper to use recycled ocean plastic than bamboo.
“We’re using sustainability to drive lower costs,” Campbell said. “More sustainability...is great for the environment and our customers.”
Dell plans to announced its new packaging material at the World Ocean Summit, held at a beach resort in Indonesia. Campbell will be there, joined by the guy who launched Dell on this path in the first place: Grenier.
Campbell said Grenier not only pushed Dell to consider doing something about ocean plastic pollution, but he actually got involved in the design work of the packaging, he said. “I do want to give him a lot of credit,” he said.