Dell Promises to Take It Back

The campaign to get Round Rock-based Dell Computer to create a transparent computer-recycling program has taken "a major leap forward," according to an activist shareholder group. Calvert Group, Ltd., a "socially conscious" investment firm, and As You Sow, a nonprofit promoting corporate social responsibility, announced on Tuesday that Dell has agreed to not only recycle the potentially toxic contents of obsolete computers -- something the company claims to already be doing -- but to also establish quantifiable volume goals, and a system to track what happens to components after Dell takes them back from consumers, and to confirm that Dell's recycling vendors will comply with OSHA standards, and that the waste won't be exported to developing nations. "This year, we are pushing for action rather than words," said Julie Frieder, environment analyst for Calvert. "Words are easy; the real proof is if we begin to see change."

Dell has been the target of a campaign by the Computer TakeBack Campaign (which includes the Austin-based Texas Campaign for the Environment) for more than a year to establish such a program. Critics charge that Dell's existing program contains no guarantees or means to verify that it accomplishes its stated goals. TCE Director Robin Schneider was cautious in her assessment of the new announcement: "We are encouraged to see investors making progress in their discussions with Dell," she said in an e-mail. "However, these are all still very small steps toward a comprehensive solution to high tech trash. E-waste is a major potential financial liability for Dell and its investors. By acting strategically and intelligently to embrace producer take-back, we believe Dell could turn that potential liability into upside market share and profit potential."

Dell spokeswoman Cathie Hargett stressed the importance of establishing targets, and said that for the program to work, "we must drive down the cost of recycling and improve convenience." She also noted that recycling fees per computer had been lowered from $25 to $15, and said Dell is confident that Unicor (the federal for-profit prison labor company that is Dell's recycling vendor) meets OSHA standards. Dell will also offer free computer recycling at events April 22 in Round Rock and April 27 in Austin (for details, go to www.dell.com/us/en/gen/corporate/vision_tour_environ.htm.

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