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Creating value through product recovery - the opportunities and challenges in reverse logistics

  1 Introduction

Growing concern regarding the environment has affected the companies in various different business sectors. It is a necessity to include the environmental perspective into the entire life cycle of a product or a service, if a company wishes to pursue the elements of corporate social responsibility into its activities. There has been an increase in the interest towards sustainable supply chain management, and the integration of environmental issues in supply chains is still developing. The most important drivers for greening supply chains have been the pressure of various stakeholders e.g. customers, network partners, media etc. as well as declining material and energy resources and the increasing amount of waste.

Moreover, the increasing legislation e.g. concerning the electrical waste and policies for producer responsibility create pressure for the companies. Supply chains can be examined both from the forward perspective, but also as reverse supply chains or networks, where there are increasing opportunities for new business activities in the future.

In this chapter, we discuss the value aspect related to reverse logistics, with product recovery being the primary interest. General concept of reverse supply chains and reverse logistics are introduced based on the prevailing literature. We discuss the development of product value during the whole life cycle and indicate the possibilities for companies to gain value through product recovery and introduce benefits of collaboration in the reverse logistics. Furthermore, various challenges related to product recovery are highlighted and an example of a successful collaboration within a product recovery network is introduced. Finally, the main findings are summarized and some opportunities and areas for further research are introduced.

 2 Reverse logistics and product recovery as value creating options

In addition to prevention of pollution, improving material and energy efficiency as well as reduction of waste have also become some of the main environmental concerns in industrialized countries. To prevent emerging of waste, more and more efforts are made to re-integrate used products into industrial production processes for further use. With time different concepts of material cycles and reverse supply chains are supposed to gradually replace conventional one way supply chains. The aim of product recovery is, shortly, to recover the residual value of used products. There are several options to achieve this goal, e.g. repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing of the product or parts of it, as well as reuse of its components, materials or energy. In other words reuse may take place on a product-, component- or material-level. Thus, all the options aim at extending the life span of the product, its parts and components or its materials. Management of reverse logistics includes issues regarding e.g. distribution, inventory and production management aspects as well as matters concerning different technical solutions and various actors involved and their roles in the chain. The development is driven by both regulatory and economic as wel= l as consumer pressure. Producing environmentally friendly products has namely become also an important marketing argument which encourages companies to seek options for e.g. product take-back and value recovery possibilities. (Beullens 2005, 283, Fleischmann, Krikke, Dekker, Flapper 2000, 653-654, Srivastava 2006, 535).

Kumar and Malegeant (2006) claim the first step in meeting the environmental requirements for business operations is to re-design the traditional supply chain towards a = more complex network including also the operations of reverse logistics and the chosen product recovery options. When the conventional primary supply chain starts with the extraction of raw materials and ends with the end user phase of the products and their disposal, the new supply loops extend the network to cover also the collection of used products, the reprocessing them into resources which replace, at least partly, virgin resources in the forward supply chain. According to Beullens (2005), the five key processes in a reverse supply chain are product acquisition (collecting of the end-of-life products), reverse logistics (transporting of the products to the inspection facilities), inspection and disposition, remanufacturing and finally marketing (creating secondary markets for the recovered products). Fleischmann et al. (2000)agree by adding in to a recovery chain (between collection and reprocessing) also the selection phase during which part of the products are accepted to be reprocessed whereas the low quality part is disposed. In their model reprocessing is followed by redistribution and, finally, reuse. In addition, transportation and storage can naturally take place between the phases, too. Collection can, in general, include purchasing, transportation and storage activities. It can be implemented in different ways which will be described later. The aim of inspection and separation phase is to separate repairable and recyclable products and materials from the ones that can not be used any more. The operations may concern disassembly, shredding, testing, sorting and storage. The reprocessing phase means the actual transformation of an end-of-life product into a usable product again. The transformation can be implemented in different ways, e.g. by repairing, refurbishing, and manufacturing etc. which will be described in more detail later on in this chapter. Reprocessing activities can include cleaning, replacement, re-assembly and other operations depending on the target and purpose of the action. Disposal is required for products that can not be recovered, either for technical or economic reasons. (Kumar and Malegeant 2006, 1128-1= 129, Fleischmann et al. 2000, 657).

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Figure 1: Based on Kumar and Malegeant: Closed-loop supply chain: main processes and constraints (2006, 1129).
According to Kumar and Malegeant (2006), in contrast of land filling and incineration there are at least five different strategic options which aim at value creation through product recovery. In comparison with other options, land filling is naturally of least value whereas the reuse is consequently of the highest value. In addition, products can also be repaired and sold further either as new ones or their quality could also be less than that of the new products. The purpose of refurbishing is to reprocess the used products by disassembly and replacement of outdated components. By remanufacturing the writers mean complete disassembling up to component level whereas recovering only a relatively small number of reusable parts to be used when replacing worn out components during the operations mentioned above is here being referred as cannibalization. Cannibalization is discussed in another meaning during the economic evaluation part of this paper. In this context, recycling refers to the use of materials as raw material of completely different products. (Kumar and Malegeant, 2006). However, there seems to be somewhat differing interpretations of the terminology concerning remanufacturing and recycling in the literature. Concerning our source material, the above mentioned definitions were the most commonly used ones, and are thus the basis for this paper as well.
Fleischmann et al. (2000) divide recovery networks into three parts: the so called disposer market, the recovery facilities and the re-use market. In the first phase which can be compared with the earlier mentioned collection phase, end-of-use products are transported to recovery facilities. This disposer market may consist of a large number of different product and material sources. It may even be possible (as seen in Figure 1.) that used products are not available. As described before, recovery facilities have many different options to implement product recovery and gain profit by doing so. It is also worth remembering that in some cases only a part of the products or materials can be reprocessed, the rest may not be recyclable for either technical, environmental or economic reasons. Again, it is worth mentioning that there might not be a market demand for reprocessed products or materials. The market situations and profitability aspects will be discussed later. In addition, one should bear in mind that the product or material flow from recovery facilities is actually quite similar to a conventional primary product supply chain. Therefore Fleischmann et al. prefer using the term product recovery network rather than reverse logistics network which describes better the material flow from the disposer market to the recovery facilities. (Fleischmann et al. 2000, 658).

 3 Value creation through product recovery

 3.1 Value development in the reverse supply chains

Although value that the customer gets by purchasing a certain product can be either economic or measured in other terms (e.g. future contribution, brand value and image issues or some other kind of advantage), in this context it is merely understood as a financial figure.
In general it can be said that value is not only created but it can also be consumed and wasted. The value of a product is naturally at the highest when it reaches the customer. This price includes the costs of different materials, production and refinement, all the transports and storage phases required as well as profit margins for each actor in the supply chain. At the moment when the end customer purchases the product, its value usually starts to decrease. Some of the products e.g. computers and other fast developing electronics loose their value more rapidly than others with a longer life cycle. After the product has been used and consumed, its value has decreased significantly. At this point there are two main options: if the product is disposed it looses all its value and, in most cases, turns to be a cost factor. The other option is to recreate new value for the product again. (Brodin and Anderson 2008, 9-11; Blackburn, Guide, Souza and Wassenhove 2004, 6-7). Different options for this, e.g. repair, remanufacturing etc. h= ave been described in the previous chapter.

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Value creation can be implemented in many different ways. Reverse supply chains are and can not be identical. In cases the end user is a private household the reverse logistics chain and value recreation can start at home. In these cases it is the end customer who e.g. separates the products to be disposed or recycled. In some cases the used products are transported to the collection point by the customer (e.g. paper, glass, and certain take-back products) or they can be collected from the customer by original equipment manufacturer (OEM or another actor within the reverse supply chain. The latter is usually the case in business-to-business. At this point, the value of the end-of-life product has already increased - at least to certain extend. There are a lot of situations when end-of-life products have to be stored before they are transported to the recycler. It may for example be more profitable to wait till the volume is large enough to be collected and transported. Here, though, Blackburn et al. claim that during this waiting time a lot of product value is wasted, especially when it is a question of time sensitive products mentioned before. Even if all the steps mentioned above add some new value to the product it is still negative when it is passed to the recycler. Especially when the recycler is an external third party, the efficiency of product recovery processes grows in importance. The activities of the recycler can usually include transport from the collection point to the product processing facilities, inspection, testing, sorting, disassembly, removal of hazardous or otherwise harmful material and finally the decision concerning the product recovery strategy which means choosing which products can e.g. be reused or repaired, which products can be used as spear parts or as raw material and, finally, which products have to be disposed. Due to the repair, remanufacturing etc. processes the value of these "new" products, components or materials has grown and become positive so that they are ready to be sold forward to the customers again. (Brodin and Anderson 2008, 11-13, Blackburn et al. 200= 4, 6).

3.2 Economic evaluation of product = recovery processes

Even if value can be created for end-of-life products, it should be kept in mind that it may not be reasonable for every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to implement product recovery activities. For example fast growing companies may need all available resources to invest in core activities instead of product recovery processes or focus on high returns on the stock market. In general, it can be said that the company is more willing to engage in product recovery activities if they increase shareholder wealth. In any case, the decision whether the company should or should not get involved in product recovery processes directly, indirectly or not at all should be made after a thorough economic analysis = of the costs and benefits of the activities required. To determine the potential profitability of reuse opportunities, several methods can be used. Beullens (2004) as well as Blackburn et al. (2004), for instance, recommend the use of EVA, a registered trademark that measures the difference between the return on a company's capital and the cost of that capital. A positive result of the EVA calculation indicates that value will be created for the company shareholders. It may be possible that the involvement in product recovery activities may be unprofitable for a bit´company where high returns are required by shareholders, but profitable for smaller companies that are not depended of the stock market. Another concept to assess the potential economic impacts of reuse activities is called PAM, Product Acquisition Management approach where end users are motivated financially to return their products in the right quality. This enables the control of the quality level of returned products which, in turn, makes the reuse of these products easier. (Beullens 2004, 284, Blackburn et= al. (2004, 17).

Reverse supply chain processes have very often been designed to minimize costs. This, unfortunately, often leads to value loss during the reverse supply chain. Blackburn et al. (2004) evaluate that nearly half of the value is lost during the product recovery processes. There are two reasons for that: first, the end-of-life products must be downgrade d to a lower-value product e.g. because customers are not willing to pay full price for a resold or repaired product. Secondly, as mentioned before, the value of the product starts decreasing at the
moment it is sold to the end customer and the decrease goes on till new value is created. Some products, e.g. computers and other fast developing products are more sensitive for time delays than others with a longer life cycle. Time sensitive products can also be called products with high marginal value of time, MVT, whereas the others are called products with low MVT. It has been estimated that time sensitive products (high MVT) can loose value approximately 1% per week, and the rate increases when the product gets closer to the end of its life cycle. When this is true, end-of-life products can loose up to 10-20% of their value due to time delays during the product recovery processes. On the other hand, the cost of the time delays concerning produc= ts with a low MVT can be some 1% per month. (Blackburn et al. 2004, 9-11).

One issue that also has to be taken into account, when evaluating the costs and benefits of the product recovery activities, is the so called cannibalization effect. That means that recove= red products may compete for sales with the corresponding new products of the company. Many recovered products, however, have a problem with reputation and have therefore to be downgraded, i.e. sold at lower prices. The price setting of new and recovered products influences naturally the volume they both can be sold. The supplies of used products that can be recovered can also depend on the past sales volumes of new products. In general it can be said that product recovery I profitable if the resulting cost savings are high enough to price the recovered product above its marginal cost. Finally, the company has to find out which combination of prices is the most profitable one to maximize the shareholder value.

In addition to the above mentioned matters, the economic evaluation of product recovery activities can also be influenced by aspects of competition. Because the reverse supply chain usually (but not necessarily) consists of several actors, the manufacturer can not control the entire chain. Therefore it is possible that some of the actors in the chain or network can start behaving in an opportunistic way. The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have invested in the design and production of the product and may want to restrict the possibilities of the external re-manufacturers who strive to sell their products on the same market.
(Beullens 2005, 285).

3.3 Economic impact of legislation

The economical attractiveness of product recovery activities is also influenced by legislation, both on national as well as on EU level. One example is the restriction on cross-border waste transportation that may limit waste recycling facilities as well as the so called producer= responsibility laws (2003) that require manufacturers to collect and reuse their products. Taxation is also a powerful tool. It has been speculated that governments may start to increase the taxation of the use of virgin materials. This would certainly have strong impacts in the economic evaluation of reuse and recovery activities in comparison with virgin material production. Legislation may also restrict the possibility of (re)manufacturers to sell their repaired or refurbished products as new ones. Instead, they have to indicate that the product is remanufactured or that the product contains recycled material or components. This, in turn, may have a positive or negative impact on the customer's insight of the value of the product. (Beullens 2005, 288)

4 The challenges of product recovery

As it can be seen from the previous chapter, reverse supply chains have undoubtedly value aspects for companies to be realized. If we look at the matter from the product recovery perspective in particular, there are benefits that can provide advantages not only in monetary terms, but also in the form of organizational learning. This can eventually lead to competitive advantages in the long term. When thinking of the different kinds of networks, sharing best practices through learning and innovating in networks can provide several positive aspects for companies: increasing technology and knowhow, reducing business risks, influencing the competition structure as well as promote the idea of strategic alliances (e.g. manufacturer and a non-profit organization). Despite the beneficial aspects, there are several factors hindering the efficiency of product recovery and reverse logistics. Based on the literature, the most common obstacles are related to the uncertainty of both supply and demand of products, difficulties in logistics networks and the overall efficiency of the reverse supply chain (= e.g. Fleischmann et al, 2000; Beullens, 2006; Srivastava, 2006). We will introduce these consumer-, network- and product-based challenges in the following subchapters.

4.1 Consumer-based challenges

If we start looking at the supply chain from the very beginning, namely the consumers, the challenges are related to the time, variety, quantity and quality of the returned/end-of-life products, as well as the general trend in consumer behavior and preferences (Srivastava,2006). Customer awareness of the environmental issues creates definitely a possibility for companies. As the importance of green marketing is growing, the alternatives are there to be discovered. However, the customers also go somewhat by looking at the trends, which makes the markets for secondary products unpredictable.

Another uncertainty factor related to the consumer behavior is the general attitude towards disposing of waste- or end-of-life products; some of the disposed items are in such a shape, that there are no possibilities for recovery. The careless attitudes therefore contribute to the uncertainty of the quality factor. On the other hand, even if the consumers themselves would return the products in good condition, the lack of proper collection facilities may hinder them from the proper disposal.

Brodin and Anderson (2008) remark that this kind of altruistic behavior of the consumers can not be taken for granted in the future. This calls for active participation from the companies, for example in the form of financial compensation or organizing drop-off points (Kumar and Malegeant, 2006). This would also ideally include collaboration with different stakeholders. In order to facilitate the return of a product, a company could collaborate with for example non-governmental organizations (NGO's), who would help in the collection phase. This would serve the purposes of both the company as well as the NGO's; one gaining a greener image as a producer and the other fulfilling its duty within environmental protection. When successfully implemented, this could also add value for the company.

4.2 Challenges of network design

Network design and logistic problem= s are another uncertainty factor hindering the efficient product recovery. If the recycling and remanufacturing networks do not function efficiently and effectively, it is not profitable for the companies to engage themselves in the activities Srivastava, 2006). This evidently calls for long-term planning for the companies, as for example the design and location of the warehouse need to be thought. But also the short-term visions are necessary when tackling with issue such as optimal routes for the transportation.

There is also a high level of uncertainty regarding the demand for recovered products/material, as it is not easy to predict how the market situation changes. This in turn leads to problems in large stocks that need to be kept in the warehouses, which can cause time delays and obviously losses in product value. Related to this, there is also the question of supply-pull; based on the EU's policy on the producer's responsibility (2003), there is now take-back obligation for certain products (such as the electrical equipment according to EU directive on Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment, WEEE), and as Beullens (2004) describes, this leads to problems in trying to balance the returned products and the demand for recovered products, leading again to warehouse problems and also affecting the profitability of the company in the long term perspective.

There are numerous challenges related to handling the stock, warehouse locations and basically the optimization process related to these factors. Computerized modeling systems are available for the companies to utilize to some extent, but we are not going to handle these particular issues in this paper more deeply. It is, however, important to recognize that due to the unknown factors in disposer markets concerning availability of the used products, a reliable planning of collection and recovery can be difficult and the interaction between
collection and re-distribution may be complex, thus requiring careful planning concerning the logistic routes, collection vehicles and locations of warehouses (Fleischmann et al, 2000).

4.3 Product-based challenges

Constraints related to design of the product can have significant meaning when considering product recovery. The materials of the product as well as the durability affect the recovery potential, and when examining these factors, it sometimes may not be technically or economically feasible to reproduce anything from the disposed products (Beullens, 2004). One fundamental issue to be taken into account is the fact that Gehin et al.(2008) have discovered during their research: it does not help if the products are designed so that there can
be recycled almost totally, if in the end-of-life there is no actors to continue from the point of customer retuning the product. This brings us to the very beginning of reverse logistics, and the fact of collaboration within the chain. If a company wants to create markets for its
recyclable/recoverable items, its needs to secure the continuation, and find companies to take care of the end-of-life products, if it cannot cope with the recovery itself.

One more obstacle identified in the literature is the cannibalization effect, referring to the fact that the recovered products may be competing with sales of new products of a company, and this can obviously lead to the fact that either one of the products will loose its market share (Beullens, 2004). Depending on the consumer preferences, it may be the recovered product, and in that case the company has to make a strategic decision of where to place its efforts to. This might also lead to the problem of image, as the company may gain a green image through recovery options, but at the same time, fear for losing its image concerning other items. This is due to differences in consumer base and its preferences, as the aspect of recovering new from the old can have a negative effect to some consumers concerning e.g. the safety of a product).

5 Product recovery network structures

As described in the previous chapters, reverse supply chain offers an opportunity to create value for end-of-life products. If we compare the conventional supply chain to reverse one, the greatest differences can be found on the supply side, largely due to uncertainties in quality and quantity of the material supply and a larger amount of material sources. One particular difference is the so called inspection phase, which is part of the reverse supply chain only. When looking at the distribution phase, there have not been considerable differences between the conventional and reverse modes (Fleischmann et al., 2000). When we are looking at structures of recovery networks, there are differences in relation to types of collaboration within networks, centralization aspects as well as the structures of the open and closed loops. Depending on the product and the situation, for example the inspection phase can be centralized only in a few locations or decentralized in several places. Fleischmann et al. (2000) introduce an idea of three types of product recovery networks: bulk recycling, assembly product remanufacturing network and re-usable item networks. Bulk recycling means material reuse of low-value products where the material is not necessarily used to produce the original product. This model requires high processing volumes and bran-wide collaboration to cover the remanufacturing costs. Blackburn et al. (2004) call this type of network designs as efficient supply chains. This solution focuses on cost efficiency rather than speed. The second type of recovery network, assembly product remanufacturing network, takes place on the component level. It concerns products of relatively high value and it is implemented by the OEM in order to reuse the components in its own production. Finally, the re-usable item networks concern directly re-useable items such as e.g. re-useable packages which require only small reprocessing steps like cleaning. In this context, it seems to be reasonable to create a closed loop chain structure because there is no practical difference between original use and re-use. The biggest challenges are the timing of returned packages and the transportation costs. (Fleischmann et al. 2000, 662-664).

The classification of Fleischmann et al. can be compared with the model introduced by Blackburn et al. (2004). They recommend the above described efficient supply chain for products with low marginal value of time, i.e. time insensitive products. In order to achieve cost savings the inspection phase should be centralized. It is also possible to centralize or even outsource also the repair and refurbishment activities. The opposite approach of Blackburn et al. is the responsive supply chain for time sensitive products. In order to avoid losses in time and product value, the inspection phase should be realized already at the collection facilities. The products could be divided into three categories: new, repairable and disposable. It is essential to determine the condition of the products quickly and inexpensively. The
decentralization of the inspection phase tends, however, to increase the processing costs.

The findings from the literature provide general implications of product recovery networks, but further research is needed in the future. Particularly the stringent regulative demands can have an impact on the companies' performance regarding product recovery and the efficiency of networks. There are practical examples of profitable networks available, of which we will introduce one regarding collaboration between a company and an environmental non-profit organization in the following subchapter.

6 Practical example of successful network collaboration

As already discussed in the challenges of product recovery, a proper logistics infrastructure is required in order for the reverse supply chain to function effectively. Especially the collection of end-of-life products places costs for companies and it is an important phase in the closed-loop supply chain management. Kumar and Malegeant (2006) present a case study describing a successful implementation of collaboration in reverse supply chain and product recovery.

Nike, a sportswear manufacturer, which implemented a "reuse-a-shoe" -program in 1993 in the USA, forming a strategic alliance with a non-eco-profit organization (National Recycling Coalition, NRC) to collect old athletic shoes to be reproduced. Nike has managed to create an alliance, where the non-profit organization focuses on the collection of the shoes and Nike itself can concentrate taking care of its core business, while at the same time creating a greener image to support its brand image. Nike offers three different options for the collection of the shoes: consumers can return the shoes to Nike stores (limited amount), mail them directly to recycling plant or return them to NRC member organization. NRC takes care of the separation of materials and Nike reproduces three kinds of grinds ( Nike grind rubber, foam and fluff), of which new sports surfaces, such as football fields and tennis courts, can be made (Kumar and Malegeant, 2006). According to Nike's Corporate Responsibility Report, the program has been successful, as more than 18 million pairs of shoes have been recycled and it continues in other continents as well, and the company has recognized waste being a business opportunity (Nike Inc., 2006). By this example, Nike has shown a model for successful collaboration, where different stakeholders can participate improving the sustainability of the supply chains.

7 Redesigning for recovery

As already mentioned in the product= -based challenges, the design of a product can make a difference when considering the environmental perspective of a product and its remanufacturability, which may depend on matters e.g. material choice, durability, design modularity. This brings up the question of how much effort should be put in order to make the product remanufacturable, i.e. what is the valued added for the company? It can be said that in the industry, the environmental activities are very often driven by regulations and norms. The Integrated Product Policy (European Commission, 2001) has already brought some implications toward environmentally friendly design of products, but as Gehin et al.(2008) state, there is at the moment a lack of environmental assessments carried out for products and their recovery options in the design phase. The legislation concerning product design is mostly based on the requirement to lower the environmental load of the products by e.g. increasing the remanufacturing rate.

One approach towards environmentally benign product design is life cycle analysis which helps the designer to consider all the environmental impacts during the whole life cycle of the product. However, it should be remembered that this analysis should include also the reverse LCA (RLCA). Some concrete examples could be biodegradable packages or re-usable components and materials. Related to this, Blackburn et al. (2004) introduce an existing technological solution aiming at reducing inspection costs during the reverse supply chain. It concerns specific equipment installed in the products in order to e.g. record the hours or intensity of product use. Evidently, corresponding innovations can create new business opportunities. Taking this into account, further research will be needed in order to
successfully combine the elements of RLCA, modern technology, environmental requirements and other aspects concerning product design. It is, however, clear that companies have learned to take the greener design as a marketing tool, which is attractive to environmentally conscious consumers at least.

8 Conclusions

In this chapter the concept of valued development has been examined during the whole life cycle of the product. The product value is at the highest when the product is purchased and it starts decreasing immediately after the purchase. The aim of the product recovery is to re-create new value for the end-of-life products that otherwise would be disposed and their value lost. Different phases of reverse supply chain as well as options for product recovery activities have been described in the course of this chapter. In general it can be stated that the decisions concerning the product recovery strategies call for thorough economic evaluation. In addition to the economic aspects there are various other matters, e.g. efficiency and timing, which must be taken into consideration. Despite the value creation it is not obvious that it is reasonable for every OEM to engage in product recovery processes. As described before, there are various challenges and obstacles in designing a reverse supply network. One of the most significant uncertainties is the quality and quantity of returned products as well as the market demand for recovered products. Significant value losses can also be caused by time delays during the reverse supply chain. Therefore it is essential to discover a profitable balance between efficiency and cost savings when designing the reverse supply network. There are plenty of good examples in the literature concerning successful product recovery networks but further research is certainly needed for finding out the impacts of product design as well as the overall functionality of the networks. Furthermore, the analysis of different options for product recovery and their impacts on profitability of a company would also provide valuable information for the strategic decision-making and discover new business possibilities.


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