The US Department of Transportation (DOT) recently authorized alternative standards for return shipments of retail hazmat.
On March 31, 2016, the Federal Register
published the Reverse Logistics
rule (81 FR 18527
). Designed for retailers who return hazmat products to a manufacturer, supplier, or distribution facility, the new rule provides relief from the US DOT hazmat regulations for return-to-vendor shipments. The relief includes unique packaging, hazard communication (marks and labels), recordkeeping, and hazmat employee training requirements.
Retail shelves are lined with products that meet DOT’s definition of “hazardous materials.” Some major examples include:
- Garden supplies: fertilizers, pesticides, chlorine for the pool
- Cleaning supplies: bleach, ammonia
- Family barbeque: matches, charcoal, lighters, bug repellent, fireworks
- Personal care products: aerosol hair spray, flammable perfumes
- Paints and hardware: paints, lacquers, paint thinner, turpentine, compressed air, power tools, epoxy glues
- Food: cans of whipped cream, high-proof alcohol
Whenever retailers ship hazmat, they’re supposed to follow the DOT requirements as codified in the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR). The HMR has particular and exacting requirements for packagings, marks and labels on packages, and shipping papers. These requirements apply to all hazmat, even retail products like the ones listed above.
Background on DOT’s Reverse Logistics Hazmat Rule
The HMR were first codified in the early 20th century to cover shipping containers full of industrial chemicals and explosives. Because most retail hazmat products are relatively low-risk compared to other hazardous materials and are typically packed in small amounts, managing compliance with DOT’s Hazardous Material Regulations was an undue burden on retailers.
To solve this problem, DOT created a new set of rules that provide some relief for retailers—the reverse logistics rules. These new reverse logistics rules give retailers an alternative, less burdensome method to package, label, and ship hazmat products and train hazmat employees. Retailers can use these rules instead of the more comprehensive HMR for certain retail hazmat products when they are returning them to the vendor.
What Is Reverse Logistics?
Logistics professionals who manage compliance in the US know that regulatory definitions from US DOT, US EPA, and other agencies don’t always match up perfectly with the dictionary definition or common usage of a term.
For the purposes of the exceptions outlined in the new hazmat rules for retail, “reverse logistics” means:
“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. This definition does not include materials that meet the definition of a hazardous waste as defined in this section .”
Sometimes called return-to-vendor, or RTV, reverse logistics shipments that meet the definition of a hazardous material require specific packaging, marks, labels, and training for hazmat employees.
If the type and quantity of products that a retail store ships for returns meet DOT’s definition of a “limited quantity,” employees may follow the new reverse logistics alternatives when preparing the shipment. DOT defines limited quantities in the hazmat regulation at 49 CFR 173.63, 173.150—173.156, and 173.306; they are communicated by this symbol:
What’s Changing for Retail Hazmat Shippers?
Being a “reverse logistics” shipment means that the usual hazmat rules for expensive hazmat-rated packagings, candy-striped shipping papers, and diamond warning labels DO NOT APPLY.
Instead, as long as the goods are securely packed in strong outer packagings and certain other conditions are met, retail hazmat can be returned to the vendor like it’s any other product.
Be confident you know what’s required to keep your return-to-vendor shipments in compliance with DOT’s new reverse logistics hazmat requirements. At the Reverse Logistics for Retail Hazmat Shippers Webinar, you will learn what products are affected, how to select the right packaging, how to mark and label reverse logistics packages, and how to meet DOT’s employee new training requirements for retail employees.