Dell bans exports of company e-scrap

Computer giant Dell announced a formal ban this week on the export of non-working electronics generated by the company’s operations and its various take-back programs. The company says that the move makes its export policy stricter than Basel Convention requirements, as Dell is banning all non-working machines from export, while Basel disallows export based on material or chemical composition.

The new electronics disposition policy further states that no prison or child labor is used in processing the equipment; that “every reasonable effort” will be made to keep materials from landfill; and that all equipment throughout the chain of custody will be tracked and documented to disposition.

The move was applauded by various members of the environmental community. “This is a very significant announcement,” says Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics Takeback Coalition. “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.”

Not all cheered the announcement, however, with re-use group The World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association (WR3A), complaining that the export ban will stifle computer usage in developing countries. “In the 1980s, activists flirted with a ‘coffee boycott’ to improve the lives of coffee farmers,” says W3RA founder Robin Ingenthron. “[But] boycotts won’t make farmers richer, trade will — and Fair Trade Coffee was developed. We need the same strategy to address the demand by legitimate overseas repair and refurbishing factories.”

For its part, Dell sees the move as one that could spur the industry to do more of the same. “As one of the world’s leading providers of technology, we recognize our responsibility to ensure that technology is disposed of properly at the end of its usable life,” says Tod Arbogast, director of sustainable business at Dell. “We strongly encourage the rest of the industry to do the same using globally-consistent practices like these.”

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