By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University
Recycling has become ever more present during the coronavirus pandemic. There has been a shift from food and products delivered to schools, companies, and restaurants to more items delivered to private homes.
This shift has reshaped how products and food are prepared as well as delivered. Instead of containers for large quantities, more containers are needed for smaller, individual quantities, resulting in increased packaging waste. That, in turn, has reinvigorated the need for communities to reinforce their current recycling efforts.
Reverse Logistics Is the Foundation of Recycling
Companies are expanding reverse logistics operations, defined as moving a product or item from the customer back to the manufacturer. There are a number of reasons why items are returned: wrong products delivered, bad quality and manufacturer recalls. Then there are commercial, repairable, end-of-use and end-of-life returns. Tracking using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags were once reserved only for forward logistics to ensure a product is being delivered on time as a system of tags and electronic readers tracks a package’s movement almost to the minute.
However, it is equally important to track the time it takes to return an item as well as the growing number of returns. RFID usage has expanded to reverse logistics because the flow of returns is unpredictable and can greatly affect the supply chain if not managed properly.
What to Do with Returns?
Once an item is returned, the question remains is the item resalable, reusable or recyclable? Resalable means the item is still of such high quality it can be purchased by another consumer. The item is repackaged and then enters the forward logistics chain to be sold.
Reusable means that the product in its original form may no longer be an option, such as in a recall. However, there may be salvageable parts that the manufacturer can use for future production and sales. Also, the product may be stripped of viable parts and sent to other divisions in the company for reuse.
If these options are not possible, traditionally disposing the product was the last option. Through global recycling efforts, however, there are now ways for other companies to use unwanted parts and items. This aspect of recycling is called circular economics.
Recycling is more than a local effort, and recycling efforts have expanded both nationally and internationally. Circular economics addresses this very topic and is defined as a closed-loop system that prevents unwanted items from reaching a landfill. This accumulation of waste can be challenging, as each state has its own standards, policies, and regulations when it comes to recycling.
As Oliver Hedgepeth and Morgan Henrie explained in a previous article, “a circular economy optimizes a closed-loop system intended to eliminate waste while reducing pollution and carbon emissions with global effects. In a closed-loop system, rather than sending the used container cardboard box to the landfill as waste, it is collected and sent to a recycling center. The recycling center reclaims the usable portions, mixes them with new components and in some cases, remanufactures a new product.”
The benefits of a circular economy focused on recycling mean fewer products are sent to a landfill, providing companies with another stream for raw materials. To become part of this global effort, the United States needs to reimagine what recycling looks like. This strategy includes awareness campaigns to encourage recycling participation, easy access to recycling centers, incentives for recycling and developing cost- effective measures to build more recycling centers.
Developing circular economies is a global effort that requires the participation of many states, communities and individuals to make it successful.
About the Author
Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.