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Carbon Negative Packaging For Dell = Koch Worst Nightmare (updated)

Holy carbon capture, Batman! We’ve been following a company called Newlight Technologies, which has come up with a carbon negative plastics manufacturing process, and it looks like the idea is catching on. Following on the heels of news that Sprint will use Newlight’s AirCarbon (that’s the plastic) to make iPhone cases, Dell has upped the ante by partnering with Newlight to design its own carbon negative packaging materials.

We’re dragging the now-notorious Koch brothers into this because of their relentless lobbying efforts against clean energy, to the benefit of their massive fossil fuel holdings. Now we’re catching hints that the US fossil fuel market is pivoting toward plastics manufacturing (here and here for example), particularly in relation to shale gas, so a carbon negative, non-fossil alternative is bound to give them the willies.

Dell closed loop carbon negative

Courtesy of Dell

Update: Dell contacted us with the following clarification about their recycling programs:

The closed loop recycling program you reference is related to our hardware. While we do work toward sustainable, waste-free packaging (as evidence by introduction of AirCarbon), the closed-loop plastics process noted within the infographic is actually a model to take plastics recovered from electronics collected through our recycling programs and incorporate them back into new Dell products. You can learn more about our closed loop recycling program at

Dell’s Closed-Loop Challenge

The partnership with Newlight is part of a series of measures that Dell has undertaken to close the loop on closed-loop recycling, at least as far as plastics go.

The AirCarbon angle makes Dell the first IT company to use carbon-negative packaging, if you don’t count Sprint.

Dell has also partnered with the global design manufacturer Wistron Green Tech to achieve certified closed-loop status for recycled plastics under the third-party UL-Environment seal, which it claims is also an industry first.

The ultimate goal for Dell is to achieve 100 percent sustainable packaging within the next 6 years, by 2020.

Carbon Negative Packaging For Dell

Dell expects to launch AirCarbon packaging this fall, in the form of sleeves for its new notebook series, Dell Latitude.

The initial rollout will be in the US, but eventually Dell anticipates introducing it globally.

Dell has also introduced bamboo and wheat straw packaging, which aside from the renewability benefits has saved the company $18 million through the elimination of 20 million pounds of packaging.

Dell expects additional savings from AirCarbon because it is less expensive to manufacture than petroleum-based plastics.

While bamboo and wheat straw have the potential to close in on carbon neutrality, AirCarbon takes it to a whole new level by removing more carbon from the air than it takes to manufacture.

Carbon Negativity And AirCarbon

As for the AirCarbon itself, usually when things sound to be true there’s a catch, but in the field of carbon negativity the math is pretty transparent.

AirCarbon™ (previously known as AirFlex) is manufactured based on a revved-up microbial fermentation process, which the company has had third-party verified to quantify its carbon negativity.


The fermentation operation produces linear polyesters (PHAs or polyhydroxyalkanoates), which bacteria use to store carbon and energy. Further processing results in AirCarbon, a renewable, biodegradable plastic that NewLight claims has the performance equivalence of polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene, and other common plastics.

For what it’s worth, the major Wisconsin institutional furniture products company KI is also adopting AirCarbon for its product line, and last we heard Virgin also had expressed interest in making AirCarbon phone cases.

We’re also going to note that while David and Charles Koch have been grabbing a lot of headlines recently (thanks in part to US Senator Harry Reid), the “invisible” Koch brother has also been making waves in the anti-clean tech pool.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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