New plastic design makes Dell machines Earth-friendly

With its eye on future needs, Dell Computer Corp. has announced a new plastic cabinet design for its PCs that is easily recyclable. It can be opened without tools and takes little effort to break apart for recycling.

So far the government has not issued purchasing requirements based on recyclability, as it did with the Energy Star power-saving program. But the Environmental Protection Agency is mulling an environmentally preferred product label, according to Andrew Fanara, program manager for Energy Star.

Dell uses a removable steel shield inside the cabinet for electromagnetic radiation protection, and that also provides strength so that heavy monitors do not break the cabinet.

Dell will phase in the new OptiFrame chassis this summer, starting with Pentium Pro machines.

Plastic is a major component in many PC chassis, but it is typically coated with paints and chemicals that make it difficult to recycle. Dell uses uncoated plastic and labels that comply with ISO specifications so recyclers can identify it.

By making it easier to disassemble the chassis, Dell reduces the labor costs associated with recycling. The company cites a Gartner Group study that estimates that the cost of disposing of old PCs can go as high as $600.

The study also predicts that 25 million PCs will be ready for disposal this year.

"Designing and producing systems that can be manufactured, maintained and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner has been a consistent priority for many high-tech companies," said Greg Pitts, environmental programs director at Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp., an industrial research and development consortium.

"Dell deserves applause for taking bold steps in incorporating environmental design and management and especially for demonstrating that environmentally preferable products can be cost-effectively manufactured and brought to market without adding to the cost of their products," he said.

Dell also announced it is broadening its General Services Administration schedule product line to include printers from Lexmark International Inc. and removable storage devices from Iomega Corp.

"This isn't an effort to become a reseller," said Dean Kline, a Dell spokesman. Instead, the company wanted to let its federal customers have access to these popular peripherals when purchasing computers without having to go to the open market.

Dell carries the products on the open market, and they have been popular with corporate customers, Kline said. "It gives us an opportunity to give government customers access to the types of things our corporate customers have."

Other vendors, such as Gateway 2000 Inc. and Everex Systems Inc., also offer peripherals on their schedules, but they are limited to storage devices, modems and network cards rather than printers.

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