By to Pang Yee Beng, Senior Vice President, South Asia and Managing Director, Malaysia, Dell Technologies
The world we live in is constantly changing – but no matter how different things become, one thing is for sure: it is beginning to feel a little crowded.
Malaysia’s population is projected to grow by more than 3.5 million in the next 10 years to reach 36.4 million by 2030 – joining the global population that is set to grow to 8.5 billion by the same time. Three billion more people would join the ranks of the global middle class and with their additional purchasing power, increase the demand for products and services. And all of this will put enormous pressure on the earth’s natural systems.
Already, resource extraction and processing account for half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and over 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress. Closer to home, Malaysians were outraged when news came to light in 2019 that the country became the dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste. In just seven months between January and July 2018, Malaysia was inundated with a staggering 456 million kilograms of plastic waste! If that isn’t bad enough, we are also in the top ten countries in the world with mismanaged plastic waste.
Ironically, we have now become a “force of nature” ourselves in what scientists are calling the Anthropocene – the current geological age where humans and their activities have the biggest impact on climate and the environment. Demand for resources is only going to grow, meaning stakeholders across the public and private sectors would need to work together to generate supply if we want to ensure it is done in an environmentally sustainable way – a concept better known as the “circular economy”.
The circular economy: explained
Imagine this – what if the products we use, the businesses we run and our way of life ensured that the finite resources available to us keep circulating so that we don’t further deplete them? Close the loop – so to speak. In other terms, minimise waste and maximise our necessary use of natural resources (reduce, reuse, recycle) as an alternative to the “linear” economy, in which we exhaust great quantities of resources to make, consume and dispose of products.
It is an idea that has only become more prevalent in recent years, and one that change-champions like S. Sri Umeswara has been helping to bring closer to reality. Described as an “ecopreneur”, Sri Umeswara formed a company providing consultancy and technical research and development (R&D) services to help businesses develop circular economy initiatives.
By keeping materials in continuous, closed-loop lifecycles for as long as possible, ecological systems can be replenished and restored. Not only does this create economic, natural and social capital over the long term, but there are direct, far-reaching benefits for businesses: by some estimates, the global economic gains from material savings could total US$1 trillion per year by 2025. In Malaysia, only about 25% of the one billion kilograms of e-waste produced every year end up being recycled, with the balance – estimated at about RM3 billion – not properly taken care of.
In this way, the concept of growth and prosperity can be decoupled from the consumption of finite resources. Even better, artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things can further drive and dematerialise our economies, establishing innovative models that move everyone toward a sustainable future. This informs our philosophy at Dell Technologies.
Removing waste from our ecosystems
As our economies are currently built around a culture of disposable products and single-use convenience, a staggering amount of material ends up in landfills, waterways and oceans. And the technology sector is a major contributor to the problem.
Every year, more than 45 million kilograms of e-waste is generated around the world and has become the fastest growing waste stream today. And while many people make a sincere effort to dispose of their devices responsibly, only about 20% of e-waste is formally recycled. The rest winds up in landfills or may be informally recycled, often in developing countries by workers without training or safety equipment. Whether leaching from landfills or improperly handled, these materials have the potential to adversely affect the environment and human health.
But through a circular economy framework, companies can make a difference by designing products to be easily recycled, manufacturing with recycled content, and working with customers to take back products at the end of their lives. For example, at Dell Technologies, we manufacture more than 125 different products that include “closed-loop” plastics recovered from properly recycled electronics. Also, globally, the packaging that Dell Technologies ships is about 85% recycled or renewable content.
ERTH, a startup in Malaysia, set out to tackle a different challenge – there are already sufficient resource and expertise to dismantle and recycle e-waste, but collection of e-waste remains an obstacle. By setting up an ecosystem of collectors and a storage facility site, ERTH has collected more than 50,000 kilograms of e-waste to-date, and is now working with large international companies to help reduce their e-waste footprint.
Maintaining a collaboration mindset
The concept of sharing is also central to a circular economy — the sharing of ideas, resources, best practices and processes. While it’s still necessary to stay competitive, there’s a shift in priorities towards collaborative models that deliver mutual benefits for companies, society and the environment.
To start, businesses are collaborating closely with policymakers to develop innovative initiatives and embrace restrictions on pollutive, extractive and non-renewable practices. Malaysia has begun exploring the idea of a circular economy roadmap – starting with the issue of single-use plastics. This framework will provide a policy direction to all stakeholders while providing opportunities for the local industries to embrace new eco-friendly alternatives that could facilitate penetration to a wider global market as the world moves toward adapting products and
processes that can address plastic pollution. For it to be effective requires coordinated effort from all stakeholders in the plastic value-chain working in tandem to address single-use plastics pollution.
There are also endless opportunities for companies to work with each other and nonprofits to create change. For example, Dell Technologies and the nonprofit Lonely Whale established NextWave Plastics, a consortium of companies working together to build an open-source global network of supply chains that make use of ocean-bound plastics. Because of both the importance and the opportunity that exists, you’ll even see competitors working together toward solutions. In fact, Dell Technologies welcomed Hewlett-Packard to the coalition in late 2018.
Another key way that organisations can work together to advance the circular economy is to ensure we are bringing out-of-use technology back into the supply chain. As one of the largest technology providers in the world, Dell Technologies is committed to protecting our customers and our planet. That’s why we provide secure recycling solutions around the world, including in Malaysia, that protect our customers’ data, safeguard their brand reputation and responsibly recycle e-waste.
This mindset and commitment extend to our workforce and facilities in Malaysia as well:
- We work with a local PC recycling vendor, ShanPoornam, to ensure we keep e-waste out of landfills – since 2017, Dell Technologies Malaysia has recovered a total of 1,200 kilograms of e-waste annually from employees’ home PCs and accessories.
- In July 2018, we implemented ’no single use plastic’ initiatives in all our facilities in Malaysia, and have since removed almost 850 kilograms of single-use plastic straws and food boxes annually.
- Driven by the Dell Technologies Global Facilities and Environment, Health and Safety teams, we collect paper, plastic, metal and aluminium cans on a monthly basis. To-date we have collected around 26,900 kilograms of domestic waste, of which profits from its sale are channeled to non-profit organisations.
Close the loop, start today
We have everything we need to transition to a circular economy — but time is of the essence. While large-scale change is necessary, there are a number of ways to start taking action today.
At Dell Technologies, advancing sustainability is a key priority for us, and to hold ourselves accountable for driving measurable change, we’ve set a “moonshot goal” that by the year 2030, for every product a customer buys, we will reuse or recycle an equivalent product, 100% of our packaging will be made from recycled or renewable material, and more than half of our product content will be made from recycled or renewable material.
The future we’re looking forward to may seem far off, but if we’re going to achieve a circular economy globally, we need to take action now — and we need to take action together.