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Dell revamps PC recycling scheme

All PR puff and no substance, claim campaigners

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Update Dell touted its eco-credentials yesterday when it announced it would pick up users' old computer equipment for $15 an item. In return, recyclers get up to ten per cent off their next software or peripheral purchase made through Dell.

Dell Recycling - a more obvious name than 'Dell Exchange', which it replaces - will launch on 25 March in the US. Dell hopes to offer a similiar scheme in the UK and Europe, but is waiting for the EU and national legislative situation to be clarified. EU national governments have until mid-2004 to put in place recycling laws. Until we know what we'll be obliged to do, we can't put in place a scheme like Dell Recycling, the company said.

What happens to the kit Dell picks up in the US? It passes them on to charities. In particular, Dell said it was partnering with the National Cristina Foundation, which was formed to bring technology to disabled and economically disadvantaged kids and adults.

And if the thought of simply helping folk out doesn't appeal, well there are good old financial incentives in the form of possible tax deductions - and that's Dell's emphasis, not ours.

Earlier this year, Dell came under fire from the Computer TakeBack Campaign for allegedly failing to sufficiently reduce the level of "e-waste" in the US and of using harmful materials such as lead and polyvinyl chloride in their production processes.

To be fair, Dell is one of the few PC companies to simplify the process of getting rid of old, unwanted kit. Dell Exchange was launched last September, joining similar schemes run by Sony and HP. Dell also claims it vets partners and vendors to ensure that waste product isn't simply shipped overseas and dumped.

As part of its renewed recycling initiative, the company said it will be sponsoring a five-city roadshow to evangelise recycling. However, it could do more. There's no reference to Dell Recycling on the company's home page, and we'd be surprised if each system ships with a 'what to do when you're done with your Dell' leaflet.

However, a company spokesman said it was considering a number of other customer awareness initiatives, including promoting Dell Recycling in its catalogue and customer emails, and highlighting the programme when an existing customer orders a new machine.

And let's not forget that Dell uses US prison labour to break up the PCs it collects and can't pass on to good causes. Cons are contracted by US government agency Unicor (aka Federal Prison Industries). It beats breaking rocks, we suppose.

The Computer TakeBack Campaign remains dismissive: "We fully assume Dell has plans to organize flashy one-day computer collection events across the country around Earth Day this coming April," said David Wood, organizing director of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, in a statement. "One-day collection events are a tiny piece of the solution, but certainly do not approximate a long-term solution; 365 one-day events would come closer. Dell should make every day Earth Day."

Dell, he added, is focusing its efforts on public relations opportunities rather than taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products. "Dell has failed to reveal how many machines have been recycled through this program, or any goals or benchmarks to evaluate its success." ®

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