Product Stewardship for Manufacturers

Take-Back Programs

Take-back programs give manufacturers the physical responsibility for products and/or packaging at the end of their useful lives. By accepting used products, manufacturers can acquire low-cost feedstock for new manufacture or remanufacture, and offer a value-added service to the buyer.

Most take-back programs in the U.S. are voluntary, while legislation in many European countries require manufacturers take responsibility for waste costs incurred by products and packaging.

Checklist of suggestions for take-back programs.

Who's Doing It?

Sony and Waste Management, Inc. electronics and computers

Xerox copiers

Dell computers

Ford & Saturn bumper take-back programs

Kodak recyclable cameras

Hewlett Packard electronics

Anheuser-Busch reusable packaging (see page 18)

Carpet manufacturers and distributors

Sony Post-Use Resource Management

IBM computers, battery packs, and other supplies

Miele, Appliance Recycling Centers of America & Whirlpool whitegoods

Nortel Networks communications equipment

Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA) electronics

Melborne (Australia) TV take-back pilot

King County (WA) Computer Recovery Project

Bosch power tools

Additional Resources

Western Electronic Product Stewardship Initiative

Return to Sender. August 1998. Free publication of take-back case studies for power tools, office furniture, whitegoods, photocopiers, mobile telephones, rechargeable batteries, and automobiles (European)

Northwest Product Stewardship Council

Institute for Local Self Reliance

Inform, Inc. and Inform's Battery Study

Computer Take-back Report Card - Lagging Behind Goals

Elements of Starting a Take-back Program

checkbox Assess whether your product(s) have good potential under a take-back program, from a physical and economic perspective

Reason: Some products may not be good take-back candidates for one reason or another

Examples (from the physical perspective):

Product types typical of take-back:

  • Packaging that is reusable or recyclable, e.g., disposable cameras, cardboard
  • Products that become obsolete rapidly or or have limited lifespan, e.g., furniture, electronics, whitegoods
  • Products that contain significant material or energy value after use, e.g., power tools, batteries
  • Products that contain valuable components that can be refurbished and reused, e.g., photocopiers, print cartridges

Also consider facility and operational feasibility

Example (from the economic perspective):

  • An economic analysis considering all costs and environmental or cost savings can determine whether the business wants to implement. The analyses can identify if the program will be cost-effective, if some costs will need to be internalized, or if product prices will need to raise

checkbox Start incrementally, focusing first on products that create a serious disposal problem

Reason: A comprehensive and successful take-back program requires diligent design and planning; incremental implementation may gain more acceptance and participation
Example: Focus on product(s) that are high volume, contain hazardous or toxic constituents, have significant embodied energy or resource, or have no functioning end markets

checkbox Design for the Environment

Reason: Facilitates easy disassembly, refurbishing, reuse or recycling

  • Xerox Corporation (see case studies) designs new digital copier for remanufacturing
  • Mark components and parts with a code indicating material content. Some of Bosch's older tools do not have different components or materials coded or identified. Upon take-back, if a material cannot be identified, the complete tool must be shredded and only the metals recovered
  • Herman Miller, Steelcase, and Wilkhahn, furniture manufacturers, use DfE strategies which enable easier reconditioning for a second life, and disassembly for service, repair, and material recovery
  • View a diagram showing DfE relationship to take-back with respect to equipment and appliances, and see our DfE section

checkbox Develop a material and product distribution tracking system

Reason: Account properly for take-back
Examples: Mark components; use a comprehensive database to document distribution of products and components; use barcoded inventories

checkbox Ensure viable uses and markets for returned/recycled materials

Reason: If materials will be cost-effectively taken back or recycled, they must have some residual value

  • Test the recycled material in new applications; in-house or external to your company. NIKE has found that some markets for the end-of-life goods they take back are quite volatile, and as such, has developed product formulations that use the materials as a feedstock back into new products
  • Test the end product for market acceptance

checkbox Set up a collection infrastructure and system

Reason: To get maximum customer participation, return must be relatively easy for the consumer to find and use

  • If materials are not usable in-house, partner with municipalities, recyclers, and purchasers. Include quality and sanitation control requirements in product instructions or packaging
  • Bosch customers can send used power tools directly to Bosch or return them to designated retailers who provide a new battery or complete tool at a discount price. Their retailers are required to manage the logistics and transportation of tools back to a Bosch facility.

checkbox Inform the consumers (and distributors)

Reason: It's interesting, gets attention, and increases likelihood of return

  • Discuss benefits of take-back such as reusing the materials requires less energy than creating new products/packaging with virgin materials. Include quantifiable energy savings, emission reductions, material reductions, or other benefits
  • Discuss how returns will be reutilized - describe the recycling process for cardboard, or the process of grinding, cleaning and re-extruding plastic for use in a new product.
  • Instruct how to return the goods - include where, when, and quality or contamination issues

checkbox If feasible, provide incentives for returning

Reason: Increases likelihood of return
Examples: Offer a donation of $1 to an environmental organization for every returned print cartridge, or $10 or credit toward customer's next purchase

checkbox Develop packaging to improve the recyclability of your company's products or packaging

Reason: Increases likelihood of return
Example: The Packaging Council of Australia has a set of the best links for packaging design, reduction, and reuse


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