Reverse logistics: the importance of awareness

Since 2010, Law 12.305 on reverse logistics has been in effect in Brazil, which is part of the National Solid Waste Policy (PNRS). According to the law, companies are responsible for the products they place on the market, and should monitor their entire life cycle. It is a set of attributions of manufacturers, importers, distributors, traders, consumers and public services of urban cleaning and management of solid waste, to minimize the volume of waste generated, as well as to reduce the impacts caused to human health and environmental quality.

According to the PNRS, reverse logistics is one of the instruments for the application of shared responsibility, being an economic and social development tool characterized by a set of actions, procedures and means to enable the collection and return of solid waste to the business sector, either for reuse in its own production chain or for another final destination environmentally appropriate.

The big problem is that the Brazilian business community lacks vision about the relevance of this issue. As there is no enforcement on the subject, the vast majority of industries prefer to simply discard the scrap or sell it to scrap dealers. Apparently, this is a simpler solution that requires little effort. However, this practice is not sustainable, since, at the end of their life cycle, many products are simply thrown into the seas, rivers, or forests, without any kind of treatment.

Reverse logistics, although it requires financial and human investments for the creation and maintenance of the processes, presents many gains in several spheres, such as economic, social and environmental. From the environmental point of view, the benefit is very clear as it reduces the volume of waste and reuses raw materials, saving natural resources. On the social side, reverse logistics processes promote direct and indirect employment, since communities need to be engaged in order to collect materials that would otherwise be discarded. Economically, the system allows a fast payback, becoming very profitable in the medium and long term.

However, creating a reverse logistics program requires a lot of focus and determination. The people involved need to know very well the consumption journey and the disposal habits to create a way to capture and return to the factory. It is also necessary to make adaptations, after all, when the products leave for consumption, they meet certain quality standards, but when they arrive, they need to be separated and sanitized before starting the processes required for recycling. All this requires adaptation and preparation.

Then, the next challenge is to promote the culture of products with recycled compounds, which usually face some kind of prejudice. Resistance to the new is always common among human beings, but it is necessary to develop an awareness in order to prove that products made from recycled material have as much quality as those made from totally virgin raw material. The problems, when they arise, are usually much more derived from flaws in the manufacturing processes than from the components themselves.

Despite all the work that is required, a good reverse logistics program can be implemented in practically all types and sizes of industries. All that is needed is to create a mentality that values the social, economic, and environmental impact, starting from the entire chain of the production cycle. To remove from the environment objects that would take 400, 500, or even 800 years to decompose is in itself a great advantage. The companies that develop this kind of awareness will certainly be rewarded.

Miriam Bastos is engineer and plant manager at Mazzaferro.