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Reverse Logistics

15 January, 2016 - 09:18

So what happens if products end up broken or unusable as they travel through their supply chains? And what do companies do with scrap materials and other “junk” produced, such as packaging? Increasingly, firms now run products and materials such as these backward through the supply chain to extract value from them. The process is known as reverse logistics.

Patagonia developed a reverse logistics systems for environmental reasons. After garments made by Patagonia are worn out, consumers can mail them to the company or return them to a Patagonia store. Patagonia then sends them to Japan to be recycled into usable fibers that are later made into new garments. The company has also convinced other clothing makers to do the same, even though it can add to the cost of products.

Most companies set up reverse logistics systems to “turn trash into cash.” Pittsburgh-based Genco is firm that specializes in reverse logistics. Companies like Best Buy, Sears, and Target hire Genco to find buyers for defective or broken products. A recent study suggests companies can recover up to 0.3 percent of their annual sales this way, which for Best Buy would amount to $100 million a year. 1

TerraCycle, which we mentioned in Chapter 5 "Market Segmenting, Targeting, and Positioning", is a company dedicated to extracting value from waste and using it to create new products—a process that’s being called “upcycling.” In addition to selling fertilizer in used (but relabeled) plastic bottles, TerraCycle makes backpacks and pencil cases out of the metallic juice pouches used in drink boxes. The company also creates tote bags out of plastic bags, and contracted with Target to make clocks out of old vinyl records.


Being able to trace products helps a company anticipate events that could disrupt the supply chain, including shipping mistakes, bad weather, and accidents so they can be averted. Most shippers have track and trace systems that can track product loads. Tracking individual products, especially after they are combined to make other products, is more difficult.

Consumers are more interested than ever in knowing where their products come from—particularly when there is a contamination problem with an offering. Reverse logistics is the process of running damaged and defective products and scrap materials backward through the supply chain to extract value from them. Companies are increasingly employing reverse logistics not only to save money but for environmental reasons.


  1. Why is being able to track products important to companies? Why is it important to consumers? How can it add value to products?
  2. What place does reverse logistics have in a company’s supply chain?