Retailers, Beware of Hidden Hazmat in Returns


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles (COSTHA) and federal, state and local entities addressing the handling of hazardous materials (hazmat) are constantly updating regulations and procedures. With growing concern for the environment, there is more pressure on the manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers as to how they should properly handle items being returned by the consumer.

Within the next 3-5 years, there is expected to be an increase in products being discarded and returned, as well as more regulations that will affect everyone along your supply chain. With more demand on manufacturers to produce more advanced high-tech products, and the lifespan of products getting shorter and shorter, the number of potentially hazardous products being returned or discarded annually will increase exponentially. This means that reverse logistics in your supply chain is going to become more complex. Many items you may not think contain hazardous material actually can be the most dangerous.

Hazmat in the Supply Chain

Manufacturers, as a rule, know their products’ properties and they handle their returns in compliance with the laws and regulations that govern hazmat transportation, distribution and storage.

Retailers and wholesalers are not as well versed, due to the variety of items from manufacturers, and their employees handling returns may not be well trained in distinguishing and handling potentially dangerous products. Although they may not violate the laws and regulations that govern handling of hazardous material, there are bound to be some products the employees won’t suspect as needing special handling, which could create potential problems for your business.

The Reverse Logistics Challenge

Managing returns is much more complex than handling incoming merchandise. When items arrive at stores, they have already undergone all the safety precautions. The items have also had the proper labeling included in the packaging that would notify the consumer of any hazards. After products are returned, the packaging is often gone. The product may have been damaged; it could have leaks, or there may be some residual materials added that should be treated with special care when transporting back to the manufacturer or the disposition facility.

If you do not have a program installed and enacted, with well-trained personnel who are constantly keeping in line with new regulations and who are following through on the proper care of returns, you are putting your business at risk. If you are not able to train your staff in handling returns properly, it may be worth your while to look into a third-party business (3PL) that can. They are knowledgeable about current laws and regulations concerning the disposal and handling of hazardous material. They will make sure to keep you in compliance in order to avoid expensive fines and legal action.

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