Forward and Reverse Distribution
The conventional forward channel in freight distribution is well understood with raw materials, parts and finished goods flowing from suppliers to producers, distributors and, finally, to consumers. In many cases, there is also a reverse channel where wastes, packages, and defective/obsolete products are "climbing back" the supply chain. In some cases (such as a defective product), distributors will take back the merchandises, but in many others, a specialized segment of the distribution industry aims at collecting and then recycling goods and parts. Thus, reverse logistics (or reverse distribution) is concerned about the movements of previously shipped goods from customers back to manufacturers or distribution centers due to repairs, recycling or returns. There are several variants:
  • An important segment is customer-driven, where domestic waste is set aside by home-dwellers for recycling. This has achieved wide popularity in many communities, notably because the public became involved in the process.
  • A second type is where non-recyclable waste, including hazardous materials, is transported for disposal to designated sites. As land fills close to urban areas become scarce, waste has to be transported greater distances to disposal centers.
  • A different approach is where reverse distribution is a continuous embedded process in which the organization (manufacturer or distributor) takes responsibility for the delivery of new products as well as their take-back. This means environmental considerations for the whole life-cycle of a product (production, distribution, consumption and recycling/disposal).