Orlando, Fla. — Finding breakthroughs and solutions to combat the world's ocean plastics problem is not something anyone should consider proprietary, a leading business voice in the issue maintains.
Dell Technologies Inc., the computer and electronics company, has earned notice for its commitment to use recycled ocean-bound plastics in its new products.
And Oliver Campbell is helping lead that push as the company's worldwide director of procurement and packaging.
Dell already has used some 16,000 pounds of plastic collected from the environment that was in danger of entering the oceans. The company wants to use 10 times that much in the years ahead.
Dell's first major use of such material is packaging trays for its XPS 13 notebook computer. Campbell hopes for a day when ocean plastics are used in many more of the company's products.
The hot button issue of plastic ocean pollution has captured the attention of environmentalists, businesses and communities alike. Alarming statistics warning about the amount of plastic that finds its way into the ocean every day — 8 million tons per year by one respected estimate — gives people a relatable yardstick by which to conceptualize the issue.
It's with this backdrop that Campbell and the folks at Dell believe that finding a solution should include an "open source" approach that includes input and information sharing among partners.
It's kind of like those software development efforts that allow many people to contribute and then share in the benefits.
To that end, the company is part of a consortium called NextWave that's aimed at the issue. Campbell said there is plenty of room for other companies to join and contribute. Other founding companies in NextWave include General Motors, furniture maker Herman Miller and flooring maker Interface Inc.
Just as the open source approach has worked in the technology field, Campbell believes a similar approach is appropriate for the ocean plastics issue.
"We really looked back," he said. "Could we apply the same type of structure to sustainability? And that's why what we're doing for ocean plastics is very open source.
"It goes back to the notion of we want to be transparent around our supply chain," he said.
Sharing information about the company's use of ocean plastics, along with information about the supply chain, will help other companies consider adopting a similar strategy, he said.
But there is an even more fundamental rationale at Dell that Campbell said needs to be explained.
"Why is a computer company concerned about ocean plastics? What does one have to do with the other?" he said during the Re|focus Sustainability and Recycling Summit which took place at NPE2018 in Orlando.
"Actually, quite a bit," he said. With a world population of some 7.5 billion that's only growing, there will be more and more people looking to aspire to the same dreams and goals as everyone else.
"How do you use technology? How do you have a lifestyle similar to what we have?" he said. "And a lot of it involves using computers and technology. At Dell, we see it very much in our business interests to help address these types of problems. We believe it enables the use of technology where it's currently unavailable. Just imagine the tremendous type of human potential that is then unleashed," Campbell said.
The problem is that 20 percent of the world's population — and potential Dell customers — rely solely on protein from oceans. And those oceans are being polluted.
Viewing the situation through that lens means Dell has a vested interest in the people and the planet for its future business success.
Dell's original project to capture ocean plastics involved collection efforts in Haiti, but the company plans to move future collection to Indonesia as the economics of collecting material there are much more favorable.
That's important because Dell wants to prove these kinds of efforts are economically feasible and not just a feel-good effort that will collapse under financial pressure.
Research by the company shows that plastic collection in Indonesia that leads to reuse in Dell products can be cost-competitive to virgin resin.
"The ability to have a cost benefit was huge for us," Campbell said. "We're taking an important first step to heathier oceans."