Edition 131, June 2024

Reverse Logistics Can Play a Frontline Role to Help Reverse Climate Change

By Sheldon Miller, stocs

Reverse logistics has a frontline role to play in the fight against global warming and climate change, says Sheldon Miller, the Founder and CEO of the start-up STOCS, and a 20 plus year veteran of reverse logistics and a former journalist.

Our World

Firstly, what I always find inspiring about the RLA is the vast experience of its membership base.

Many of us have been in reverse logistics for many years, some of us for decades, working tirelessly out of the limelight to improve processes, inputs & outputs at the ‘back end of retail’. Not just out of the media limelight but often well out of the limelight of the retail industry and, for many, even well out of the limelight of their own retail companies. Many years ago before LinkedIn, when you called a retail enterprise main line the folks answering as gatekeeper wouldn’t even know the reverse logistics department even existed, let alone the contacts for the reverse logistics folks.

For decades retail was all about front line sales and, to a large degree, that is still somewhat the case. But the times, they are changing and 2019 sparked big change. Since COVID, a bright light has been shone on Reverse Logistics.

The global pandemic and supply chain blockages created a perfect storm of bricks & mortar retail lockdowns and an unprecedented surge in online purchases, with a staggering subsequent increase in returns, averaging a 21% return rate. With global supply chain squeezes, we saw the back end of retail literally become the front end, as new products were in scarce supply and reuse products and parts become high in demand.

Suddenly supply chain was in the news and the mainstream media discovered our reverse logistics industry like a discovery of fire.

The eyes of the World were upon us, as the media discovered this thing called the ‘secondary market’ and this ‘new’ World of enterprise returns, resale and bargain discoveries. After the media interest came the investor interest.

The Brave New World

Reverse logistics had entered a brave new World.

And what a world it is; where no two days are the same and we are kept constantly on our feet, having to be adept and nimble problem solvers and reverse logistics ‘plumbers’ dealing with many supply chain plumbing issues: burst pipes, leaks and floods, in a retail sense. Working out how we put square pegs into round holes, at speed & scale, efficiently and effectively.

Never a day goes by without a challenge but whilst the challenges are omni-present they have become omni-channel and multi-faceted and way more complex than ever before, in a hybrid offline and online transitioning world.

We could be forgiven for thinking the COVID was the greatest challenge but there is one even bigger and with far greater stakes at play and with a burning platform:

Global Warming and Climate Change

You will know that global warming and climate change is our greatest challenge of the 21st Century. Time left to limit global warming to 1.5°C is 5 years. That is the cold, hard fact as the Earth simmers to boiling point. If we do not act, global sea levels will rise by at least 1.5 feet by the end of this century.

In February, it was confirmed that the 1.5°C threshold of global warming had been breached for a full 12 months for the first time.

Reverse logistics has a hugely influential role. Decades long talk about global warming and climate change has 99% of the time focused on fossil fuels and carbon dioxide. This is largely right but the overwhelming focus on CO2 has mostly overlooked a greenhouse gas with far greater adverse impact on a per unit tonnage emission basis.

It’s time we started talking about…


Firstly, let’s talk science and it’s time to brush up on a bit of chemistry:

Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) consists of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. It is a colorless and odorless gas at standard temperature and pressure. Methane (CH₄) is made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It is also colorless and odorless.

The primary source of CO₂ is the combustion of fossil fuels (like coal, oil, and gas) and the respiration processes of living organisms. It is also released during the decomposition of organic materials and volcanic eruptions.

Major sources of methane include decomposition of waste in landfills, agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals), and leakage from natural gas systems. It is also emitted during the production and transport of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Although both gases trap heat in the atmosphere, methane is much more damaging at doing so on a per-molecule basis. Over a 20-year period, methane is approximately 84-87 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. However, CO₂ is more abundant and remains in the atmosphere much longer, contributing to long-term warming.

Methane does have a shorter atmospheric lifespan, about 12 years, compared to carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Understanding these differences is crucial for developing strategies to combat climate change; as mitigating emissions from both gases can have significant impacts on the global climate.

So reverse logistics doesn’t just have a role to play; we have a frontline role in the fight against global warming and climate change, with no time to waste.

Tectonic Shifts – Right To Repair

It’s a fair comment to make that Europe is ahead of the sustainability curve. In our space of reverse logistics, the EU was the first to bring in legislation in 2012 to tackle electronic waste with the WEEE Directive (Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment). The UN estimates that the volume of electronic waste is rising five times faster than recycling rates and e-waste is now one of the fastest growing waste streams, including mobile phones, computers, televisions, fridges and household appliances.

The EU’s subsequent and most recent Right to Repair directive forces manufacturers to make it easier for consumers to repair their products. The directive will initially only cover household goods like phones, washing machines and vacuum cleaners but it is estimated it will save customers €176.5bn over the next 15 years and prevent the emission of 18.4m tonnes of CO2. The hope is Right to Repair will extend to wider products and tackle the make, take, waste throwaway consumer culture.

US State Legislature details that some States have followed in the EU’s footsteps with Right to Repair Acts passed by some States (notably California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York) but failed in some states and still pending in many.

Taking Initiative

Whilst the wheels of state and federal politics and legislation take some time to turn, the wheels of private enterprise and, particularly start-ups, are much faster to do so. In the last few months, methane emissions from US landfills alone have been found to be 40% greater than originally estimated. There are approximately 1,200 open landfills in the US. Methane from these landfills make up roughly 20% of all global emissions of the gas and is the third biggest source after agriculture and fossil fuels.

Although it’s relatively simple to measure the amount of methane in the atmosphere, it’s harder to pinpoint where it’s coming from. However, NASA scientists are using several methods to track methane emissions and are starting to identify the super emitters.

There are 200 active landfills in 18 states that participate in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. Scientists have found that 52% of surveyed sites had observable point source emissions – meaning it was clear to see they were a direct source of methane.

Landfills are considered the third largest source of human-caused methane emissions in the U.S., responsible for 14.3% of methane in 2021 and emitting the equivalent to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from nearly 23.1 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year, according to the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Despite the climate impact of landfills, understanding of these emissions is largely limited to model-based estimates, and the sector remains under-addressed compared to other big methane sources like oil and gas. Traditional surface-based surveys with handheld methane sensors provide an incomplete picture of emissions. This is due to factors like limited access to many sections of active landfills as well as logistical and personnel safety reasons.

Positive Action

Scientists are looking to establish an accurate overview to measure the real size of the problem and to capture the single source of truth…from space.

In the next few months, a specially built satellite called Tanager 1 will be launched. Its mission will be to capture global methane using an imaging spectrometer to detect, pinpoint and quantify point source emissions of methane and carbon dioxide.

For all of us in the RLA, back on Earth and terra firma, there’s a great deal we can do to drive positive climate impact by taking a frontline role in the fight by action to reduce volumes going to landfill.

At the RLA EMEA Expo in Amsterdam, Stocs will be chairing a panel discussion on this topic with leading experts in climate and reverse logistics sustainability. We think that this is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet currently so make sure that you come along to hear the debate.

Sheldon Miller
Sheldon Miller, who is the CEO and founder of STOCS Global Holdings, which operates in the US, EU & UK, providing an AI Gateway to the Global Resale Market, driving zero waste. He has spent the last 20 years working in the global secondary market in Europe and the US, supporting over 300 clients including Amazon, Costco and the UK Government, over £1bn of client stock and asset value instructions as Business Development Director of the UK’s John Pye Auctions, before founding STOCS in 2021. Miller was also co-founder of the UK’s Nationwide Disposals Agency.