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May 02, 2016
The logic of reverse logistics
By Elizabeth M Dickinson, JD, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

Are you a retailer, or are you associated with a retailer, that needs to return retail products (that happen to be hazardous materials) to a manufacturer, supplier, or distribution facility? If the answer is no, read no further, but if the answer is yes, shippers of these “return-to-vendor” hazardous materials can now choose to comply with new shipping standards as an alternative to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) that were developed for materials posing a far higher risk to health, safety, and property. 

The Final Rule from the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) (effective March 31, 2016) defines “reverse logistics” as “the process of offering for transport or transporting by motor vehicle goods from a retail store for return to its manufacturer, supplier, or distribution facility for the purpose of capturing value (e.g., to receive manufacturer’s credit), recall, replacement, recycling, or similar reason.” The Final Rule sets forth simplified requirements for transporting reverse logistics shipments by highway (but not by air, rail or vessel). These new requirements are closely aligned with those for the HMR limited quantity exceptions and, like them, provide relief from HMR labeling and marking, placarding, and specification packaging requirements, and, in most instances, from the need for shipping papers. Training obligations for retail employees preparing reverse logistics shipments have been reduced.

In addition, the Final Rule also expands an existing exception for return shipments of used automobile batteries transported between a retail facility and a recycling center.

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What can/cannot be shipped?

What can be shipped under the new reverse logistics provisions are those consumer products containing hazardous materials that meet the new definition of “reverse logistics.” PHMSA has excluded from the scope of “reverse logistics” any hazard class or division as well as any packing group (PG) that it has determined would pose a risk to health, safety, and property when transported. What PHMSA has determined can be shipped within the reverse logistics scope are:

  • Certain Division 1.4S and Division 1.4G materials (explosives such as ammunition, fireworks, or flares),
  • Divisions 2.1 and 2.2 (flammable gases and nonflammable gases),
  • Certain consumer products in Class 3 (flammable and combustible liquids),
  •  Division 4.1 (flammable solids, excluding self-reactive materials),
  • Division 5.1 (oxidizers, PG II and III),
  • Division 6.1 (toxics, excluding toxic by inhalation (TIH) and PG I),
  • Certain consumer products in Class 8 (corrosives, PG II and III), and
  • Certain consumer products in Class 9 (internal combustion powered equipment, other miscellaneous hazardous materials, but excluding lithium batteries).

Practically speaking, the types of reverse logistics consumer goods that can be shipped include such products as cleaning supplies (e.g., bleach, ammonia), matches, and lighters, charcoal, fireworks, road flares, aerosol personal care products, paints, high-proof alcohol, pesticides, and rat poison.

What can’t be shipped are hazardous wastes requiring a manifest, lithium batteries (including lithium cells and batteries contained in equipment), and materials authorized under a special permit.

How are the materials shipped?

All carriers. Hazardous materials transported by nonprivate and private carriers must be both authorized for limited quantity provisions as well as explicitly authorized for reverse logistics transportation under the applicable limited quantities regulation (i.e., 49 CFR 173.63, 49 CFR 173.150 to 173.156, or 49 CFR 173.306). Hazardous materials must meet all requirements for the applicable limited quantity shipment, with the exception of training, which is now set forth in the reverse logistic regulation at 49 CFR 173.157.

Packaging. While reverse logistic shipments are exempt from specification packaging, each package must conform to the packaging requirements of 49 CFR 173, Subpart B and not exceed 30 kilograms (kg) (66 pounds (lb)) gross weight.

Markings. Private carriers must use the marking “REVERSE LOGISTICS- HIGHWAY TRANSPORT ONLY-UNDER 49 CFR 173.157” as an alternative to the surface limited quantity marking.

Training. Under the Final Rule, employees preparing reverse logistics shipments may, but are not required to, be trained pursuant to the full DOT training requirements for hazardous materials shippers. If retail employees are not so trained, the supplier, manufacturer, or distributor must provide those preparing a shipment with clear instructions on preparing a shipment from the retail store to the supplier, manufacturer, or distributor, including information to properly classify, package, mark, offer, and transport the shipment.

Retail employers that do not provide full DOT training must:

  • Identify hazardous materials subject to reverse logistics shipments, and verify compliance with the appropriate conditions and limitations;
  • Ensure that the manufacturer, supplier, or distributor associated with the product’s origination or destination has provided clear instructions;
  • Ensure the return instructions provided are known and accessible to any employee preparing the shipment; and
  • Document that employees are familiar with the relevant reverse logistics requirements of 49 CFR 173.157, and maintain such documentation during the employee’s employment and 60 days thereafter.

Nonprivate carriers vs. private carriers

The reverse logistic rules are somewhat different for nonprivate and private carriers. For the purposes of the Final Rule, a nonprivate carrier is anyone who does not own or operate its own fleet of vehicles.

For nonprivate carriers, PHMSA has determined that the following hazard classes would not be appropriate for shipment as reverse logistics: Divisions 1.4S fireworks or flares; Division 1.4G ammunition, fireworks, or flares; and Division 9 internal combustion-powered equipment. Consequently, those hazard classes are limited to transport by private carriers.

Private carriers are allowed to transport the hazard classes that nonprivate transporters are not allowed to carry, provided there are no more than 30 kg (66 lb) of Division 1.4S or Division 1.4G items in each package. Shipments of internal combustion powered equipment must not be powered by flammable liquids or flammable gas, and other safety conditions must be met for such equipment. These private carrier shipments are subject to the incident reporting requirements of 49 CFR 171.15 and the segregation requirements of 49 CFR 177.848.

Returned used automobile batteries

Under the Final Rule, PHMSA has expanded the exception from the HMR for electric storage batteries (i.e., automobile batteries) transported by highway or rail in compliance with 49 CFR 173.159(e). This exception is typically used for shipment of electric storage batteries from a retail facility to a recycling center. The regulation now allows the pickup of used automobile batteries from multiple shipper locations for the purpose of consolidating shipments of batteries for recycling.


Perhaps not, but PHMSA believes that the Final Rule better accounts for what is a distinct and limited segment of the supply chain associated with the shipment of consumer items containing hazardous materials from retail stores for return and that the Final Rule clarifies, streamlines, and allows for flexibility in shipping retail consumer goods.


Download Linda Lawhorn's presentation, Hazmat Shipping: How to Ensure Compliance with DOT Air and Ground Transport Regulations, on-demand.

Linda Lawhorn has more than 20 years of experience in hazmat and dangerous goods shipping by highway and air, domestically and internationally, both government and commercial applications. She has observed that critical portions of the hazardous materials regulations are misunderstood and therefore not successfully executed consistently. She has made a personal commitment to helping shippers achieve compliance and be able to enjoy their work with less stress. In addition, she has noted that individuals who are not shippers themselves but supervise shippers also benefit from this information because they are better equipped to provide their shippers with the tools they need for regulatory compliance.

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