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Dell Ramps Up Recycling Efforts

As PC growth increases, consumers and environmental groups demand manufacturers do more to properly dispose of resulting, rising e-waste.

Dell Inc. plans to triple the amount of electronics it can recycle by 2009, the company said in an annual report outlining its environmental goals and achievements.

The announcement comes as Dell and other computer makers, bowing to demands from consumers and environmental groups, have become increasingly sensitive to the safe handling of the toxic brew of materials such as cadmium, mercury and lead contained in many electronics.

Dell's updated recycling efforts, highlighted in the company's 83-page "Sustainability Report," were issued Wednesday in Oakland, Calif., at an environmental business conference. Dell has been issuing such reports since 1998.

In the fiscal year ending Feb. 3, Dell said it recovered more than 70 million pounds of used computers, monitors and printers -- a 72 percent increase over last year's efforts. Dell officials said the goal is to recover 210 million pounds by the end of 2009.

"It really fits in with the demand we're seeing from our customers," said Jake Player, Dell's senior manager of asset recovery services. "We do believe we have a responsibility, customers have a responsibility and government has a responsibility."

A similar report in March by rival Hewlett-Packard Co. said it had recycled 140 million pounds of computer hardware and printer cartridges, nearly 17 percent more than in 2004, and hopes to recycle 1 billion pounds by the end of 2007.

Such programs are encouraging, but they're mostly public-relations efforts that lack specific data, such as how many computers were sold versus how many were recycled, said Ted Smith, senior strategist with Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an electronics recycling advocacy group in San Jose, Calif.

"If they're serious about wanting to do this, they would be wanting to do a whole lot more," he said. "An awful lot of it is just sort of green smoke and mirrors."

State governments are trying to address the growing amount of so-called "e-waste." Only about 11 percent of electronics are recycled, according to the National Safety Council.

In January, Maine became the first state to directly bill electronics manufacturers for recycling and disposal costs of their products.

A California law requires customers to pay a disposal fee when they buy a TV or computer monitor, while Maryland imposes registration fees on computer makers and disburses the proceeds to municipalities for use in recycling old hardware.

Dell fared poorly in a 2001 report by the Computer TakeBack Campaign, which monitors the recycling efforts of the world's computer makers, mainly for its use of prison workers who earned 20 cents to $1.26 per hour to recycle hardware.

In 2004, Dell and HP both began programs where customers can have their old computers and other electronic gadgets recycled for free.

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