By 2020, Dell aims to have a waste-free packaging stream: all packaging will be sourced from sustainable materials, and all of it will be recyclable or compostable. In short — Dell customers won’t have to send any of their packaging to the landfill.
As part of this effort, we’re introducing a new Dell sustainable material — wheat straw — in some of our cardboard boxes. It joins other innovative materials such as bamboo and mushroom that we’re using to revolutionize our packaging.
You’ve heard the phrase “separating the wheat from the chaff?” We derive our straw from that chaff, a byproduct of wheat harvesting that’s often considered waste. In fact, many rural farmers dispose of it through burning, which contributes to air pollution. By rethinking the common cardboard box, Dell is hoping to create a new market for wheat straw, turning what was once waste into sustainable packaging.
The straw was previously overlooked because it was considered a tough, unworkable material; it requires harsh chemicals to turn it into useful pulp. We looked to nature to help solve this problem.
Once the wheat straw arrives at our supplier’s facility, it is processed and mixed with enzymes that “digest” the material — forming it into pulp that’s easier to process. Then, it’s blended with other paper-based feed stocks (using as much recycled-content fiber as possible) at the adjacent paper mill. The idea for the “digestion” process is mirrored on nature, after engineers studied cow digestion processes. This is known as biomimicry — investigating nature’s systems and models, and applying them to solve human problems. We anticipate this process will use 40 percent less energy and almost 90 percent less water than traditional chemical pulping.
We’ll need these kinds of creative solutions as we seek to meet our 2020 packaging goals. Currently, a little more than half our packaging meets our 2020 criteria, so we know it will be a challenge. But our previous sustainable packaging efforts have made our customers happy, eliminated more than 20 million pounds of material, and saved us $18 million — we also know the effort is worthwhile.