Pressure to increase global consumption creates problems that are not easily resolved, but that must be considered now so that they do not become even bigger. Have you stopped to think about the volume of waste generated every day in your city? And its final destination? Do you know what happens to it?
How many times a week do you repeat the task of bagging your trash and putting it out on the street, waiting for someone to pick it up and solve your problem? In short, this is the job done by just one of the actors involved in this process: the consumer. Vendors, distributors, manufacturers and importers round out this list and work in both directions within this process: in the production/consumption direction and vice-versa (reverse logistics).
The product lifecycle is usually only considered in the direction of production: as a series of stages that involve product development, from obtaining raw materials and inputs for manufacture, the production process, consumption and even disposal.
The lifecycle model plans for appropriate disposal of postconsumer products, but it focuses attention on the primary direction of the process, which starts with production and ends with consumption.
Responsibility for handling waste, aimed at minimizing waste volume and reducing impacts to human health and environmental quality, should be shared between the manufacturer, importers, distributors, vendors, consumers and those responsible for public urban sanitation and waste management services.
In other words, this is a complex process that cannot be treated simply, to the point of being represented by a simple sequence of activities.
Reverse logistics can be defined as an instrument for economic and social development, characterized by a set of actions, procedures and means aimed at making collection and restitution of solid waste feasible for the corporate sector, in order to be reused in its own cycle or in other production cycles or to have an environmentally appropriate destination.
Perhaps the term “instrument,” chosen to describe reverse logistics, can be contributed to the interpretation that the lifecycle and reverse logistics are nothing more than complementary processes. Yet the fact remains that reverse logistics plays a fundamental role in evaluating and understanding the lifecycle of any product.
By comprehending this broader perspective of the lifecycle, there is a perception that the overriding focus is on finding the best social and environmental practices for conscientious production and consumption, including efficient use of raw materials and energy and classification in the hierarchy of solid waste management.
Benefits of the integrated approach
For many companies, this topic is a matter of obligation, due to standards and laws that mandate the use of reverse logistics in some segments. Yet there are many other important reasons justifying an investment in a full product lifecycle assessment (including a product’s reverse logistics):
- Improved processes, when product returns are found due to quality problems or customer dissatisfaction;
- Lower costs, through better use of raw materials and enhanced processes;
- Creation of new revenue streams, since a reverse logistics program opens up new business opportunities;
- Better company image, since a company that thinks about the environment is held in higher esteem by its consumers;
- Competitive edge, since product lifecycle monitoring provides companies with different information than that gained using a traditional approach.
Product lifecycle management, reverse logistics and waste management are topics that are yet to be widely explored by companies; however, as explained here, they can offer myriad benefits, especially when accompanied by a system capable of offering resources that facilitate this management in an integrated manner.