Reverse logistics is “the sequence of activities required to collect the used product from the customers for the purpose of either reuse or repair or re-manufacture or recycle or dispose of it (Fig.1; Agrawal et al., 2015)”. Hence, reverse logistics is, in essence, a circular strategy (since it integrates R-strategies) and it is recently considered as a key step towards sustainable supply chains.

Julianelli et al. (2020) studied how reverse logistics with a circular economy perspective can create value for the supply chain, and they developed a framework (shown in the Figure 2), based on 5 critical success factors:

1.- Planning and managing materials to use materials more efficiently.

2,. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to monitor environmental impacts, determine hotspots and rethink the value chain to extend product life and optimize the use of resources.

3.- Industrial Sustainability to adopt circular strategies (i.e., industrial symbiosis), increase efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.

4.- ICT to develop new technologies for circularity. For instance, new sensors for waste collection; or tools to collect and analyze data on customers’ preference.

5.- Promoters and relationships to stablish synergies and networks to ensure innovative cooperation, and the creation of value along the whole supply chain. This factor is key and, therefore, it is linked to all processes within the value chain.

This last factor on stakeholder relationships is in line with one of the findings from Bressanelli et al. (2019) who highlighted the need of multiple actors to design and implement circular strategies within the supply chain.

The degree of knowledge and awareness of stakeholders on circular economy issues is key to create innovative and strong relationships and cooperation. In this regard, the Col.legi d’Economistes de Catalunya (CEC, 2020) published the first barometer of circular economy in the region in order to assess the level of knowledge and implementation in Catalan companies. Regarding the perceptions of the interviewed companies, they found that all companies (especially big corporations) believe in the urgent need to move to circular models. About taking initiatives; the larger the corporation, the more action is taken towards transition. Companies believe that increasing efficiency of the supply chain is key to attain circularity, and they highlight the need to improve the metrics to assess circular strategies.

A key measure of reverse logistics is the use of reusable packaging. When changing from single-use to reusable transport items (RTIs), the roles of the stakeholders may change (Coelho et al. (2020). For instance, retailer can become a channel from supplier to consumer; or a new actor, such as a pooling company, may enter in the value chain, as a provider of RTIs (such as RPCs; Reusable Plastic Crates) for products transportation to the costumers.

In summary, establishing circular strategies within the supply chain requires strong relationships to guarantee stakeholder engagement.

Figura 1: Expand to see. Figure 1: Diagram of forward and reverse logistics processes. Source: Agrawal et al. (2015)

Figura 2: Expand to see. Framework for CSFs of reverse logistics. Source: Julianelli et al. (2020)


Laura Batlle Bayer – Investigadora de la beca postdoctoral ARECO en la Cátedra UNESCO de Ciclo de ida y Cambio Climático de ESCI-UPF.


Agrawal, S., Singh, R.K., Murtaza, Q., 2015. A literature review and perspectives in reverse logistics. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 97, 76–92.

Bressanelli, G., Perona, M., Saccani, N., 2019. Challenges in supply chain redesign for the Circular Economy: a literature review and a multiple case study. Int. J. Prod. Res. 57, 7395–7422.

CEC, Col.legi d’Economistes de Catalunya, 2020. Baròmetre d’economia circular de l’empresa catalana 2020.

Julianelli, V., Caiado, R.G.G., Scavarda, L.F., Cruz, S.P. de M.F., 2020. Interplay between reverse logistics and circular economy: Critical success factors-based taxonomy and framework. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 158, 104784.