Dell is First to Use Mushroom-Based Computer Packaging

Computer maker Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) is the first technology company to begin using mushroom-based packaging for some of its shipments.

Making packaging materials from mushrooms and common agricultural waste products such as cotton, rice, and wheat chaff is an initiative sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the US EPA, and the USDA, among others.

The sustainable materials replace styrofoam and polyethylene commonly used as cushioning, and they can be composted.

"We’ve tested the mushroom cushioning extensively in the lab to ensure it meets our same high standards to safely protect our products during shipment–and it passed like a champ," Dell said in a blog post.

Initial pilot shipments will be for Dell’s PowerEdge R710 server in the Multipack packaging configuration. Four systems fit in one box, which dramatically reduce packaging material.

The mushroom cushioning is unique because it is grown and not manufactured in the traditional sense, Dell said.

"The process works like this. Waste product like cotton hulls are placed in a mold which is then inoculated with mushroom spawn. Our cushions take 5 – 10 days to grow as the spawn, which become the root structure–or by the scientific name, mycelium–of the mushroom. All the energy needed to form the cushion is supplied by the carbohydrates and sugars in the ag waste. There’s no need for energy based on carbon or nuclear fuels."

Dell hopes the mushroom packaging will complement its bamboo packaging, providing a better option for heavier products like servers and desktops.

Bamboo, which the company began using in 2009, is better suited for notebooks and smartphones, Dell said. Currently the company is shipping approximately half of its Inspiron line of consumer laptops in bamboo.

Dell aims to eliminate about 20 million pounds of packaging material from its shipments by the end of 2012, while cutting desktop and laptop packaging by around 10%, increasing sustainable content in cushioning and corrugate packaging by 40%. Dell also wants 75% of its packaging components to be curbside recyclable by 2012.

Dell also makes recycling computers and ink cartridges easy, but there’s also a dark side to the company.

Michael Dell helped defeat a proposal that would have required federal stimulus money to be spent on American-made goods. Dell Inc., the 43rd-largest federal contractor, now makes most of its computers abroad. Since 2008, Dell cut 7,300 jobs in the US while creating 4,300 jobs overseas.

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