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Retailers Get Help With New DOT “Reverse Logistics” Rules

Retailers Get Help With New DOT “Reverse Logistics” Rules

by Roger Marks, Content Writer, Lion Technology

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 76

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In March of this year, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized streamlined, simplified hazmat shipping rules for retail stores. The new rules will help retailers who return products to a manufacturer or supplier for a refund, a process known as “reverse logistics” or “return-to-vendor” (RTV) shipping.

Because the hazmat products found in retail stores typically pose a low risk to people and the environment when in transport, the new reverse logistics shipping rules provide relief for retail stores who were previously subject to more stringent requirements under the US Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). The HMR rules can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, or “49 CFR” for short. The new reverse logistics rules are found at 49 CFR Part 173.157.

DOT’s Final Rule took effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register on March 31. Here we take a look at what’s required, and what retail shippers must do to stay in compliance.

What is Hazmat Reverse Logistics?

When it comes to regulatory compliance, it’s important to remember that common-sense definitions do not always match up exactly with the standards regulators create. As US DOT defines it, “reverse logistics” means the process of shipping products from a retail store to a manufacturer, supplier, or distributor for the purpose of replacement, recycling, recall, or getting a refund or credit.

Products found on retail shelves that may meet DOT’s definition of a hazardous material include:
• Cleaning supplies (bleach, ammonia)
• Paint, paint thinners, lacquers, etc.
• Most aerosol cans
• Anti-freeze
• Pesticides
• Hairspray
• Chlorine tablets
• Butane lighters
• Car batteries

Not all hazmat products are eligible for relief under the relaxed standards, so it’s important that retail professionals know how to identify which products qualify and which don’t.

Which Hazmat Classes Quality for Relief?

The US DOT’s hazmat regulations separate hazardous materials into nine “classes.” Within those classes, most products or materials are assigned to a “Packing Group” (PG) which specifies a level of hazard. PG I materials are the most hazardous, PG II are less hazardous, and PG III are the least hazardous. Also, some hazmat classes are broken down into Divisions to delineate specific types of hazards within the class.

The DOT hazmat classes and packing groups for which the new reverse logistics hazmat rules apply are:
• Class 3 – Flammable Liquids (PG II and III)
• Class 8—Corrosive materials (PG II and III)
• Some Division 1.4S and 1.4G explosive materials like ammunition, fireworks, and flares
• Division 4.1 and 4.3—Flammable solids and Dangerous When Wet materials (excluding self-reactive materials)
• Division 5.1—Oxidizers (PG II and III)
• Division 6.1 Toxic Substances (excluding toxic inhalation hazards and PG I materials)
• Class 9—Miscellaneous hazards (excluding lithium batteries)

Batteries Not Included (Lithium batteries, that is.)

Notably not included in DOT’s new reverse logistics hazmat rule are lithium batteries. Because of the unique hazards associated with these batteries in transport, these shipments must be prepared under other specific US DOT regulations, found at 49 CFR 173.185. Those requirements apply to batteries shipped alone, with equipment, or in equipment.

The rules for lithium batteries have changed significantly in recent years, with both US and international regulators creating requirements rules for ground, air, and ocean shipments.
Another type of hazmat not covered by the relaxed standards is hazardous waste generated by retail facilities. US EPA is currently working to develop its own simplified standards for retail establishments that manage hazardous waste, including “reverse distribution” requirements.

Quantity Limits for Reverse Logistics Shipments

The new reverse logistics standards also include quantity limitations. In order to qualify for relief, a hazmat shipment must meet US DOT’s definition of a “limited quantity.” Fortunately, most products packaged for retail sale likely already meet this requirement.

Generally speaking, reverse logistics shipments are limited to 30 kilograms (66 pounds). For shippers seeking more specific information, DOT has added authorizations to its limited quantity rules found in 49 CFR 173.150—156 to explain which materials are eligible for relief as “reverse logistics” shipments.

Retailers may recognize limited quantity hazmat shipments by the markings used in transportation:

Under the new reverse logistics rules, most products that bore the markings above—in the same amounts and the same packaging—will now qualify for further relief.

Packaging Retail Reverse Logistics Shipments

Retailers must select adequate packaging for reverse logistics shipments as well. Under the new rule, US DOT sets some basic packaging requirements. To return hazmat products for a refund or credit, retailers must use:
• The original package or a package of equivalent strength and integrity;
• Inner packagings that are leak-proof for liquids and sift-proof for solids;
• Outer packagings that contain enough absorbent material to contain spill of liquids from the inner packagings; and
• Cages, carts, and /or bins to secure packages against shifting in transit.

Hazard Communication (Marks and Labels) for Reverse Logistics

For shipments transported by contract carriers or common carriers like UPS or Fedex, retailers must continue to comply with the complete limited quantity hazmat shipping standards, including the requirement to use the limited quantity marking at 49 CFR 172.315(a), pictured above (black and white diamond).
For shipments transported by private carriers (i.e. self-transport), retailers may follow the relaxed reverse logistics rules, including the use of a new hazmat marking. The new alternative marking, created in the March Final Rule, reads:


What Else Do Retailers Have to Do?

As part of the rule, retailers must also train employees who prepare reverse logistics shipments on the new requirements for identifying, packaging, marking, labeling, and handling the hazmat products they work with. [49 CFR 173.157(e)] For more information on DOT hazmat employee training, visit

As an alternative to formal training, employers may provide employees with a copy of instructions (provided by the manufacturer, supplier, or distributor) to correctly follow the reverse logistics rules for the particular material being shipped. Employers must document that employees are familiar with the reverse logistics requirements. The documentation must be kept on file throughout the worker’s employment and for 60 days thereafter.

Expanded Exclusion for Battery Recyclers

In addition to creating the reverse logistics shipping standards, DOT’s March Final Rule also expanded an existing exclusion for businesses that transport used lead-acid batteries for recycling. These carriers may now pick up batteries from multiple retail locations for the purposes of recycling, provided that the batteries are consolidated on pallets and loaded so as to not cause damage to the batteries during transport. In the past, only pick-ups from a single retail location were allowed at one time (i.e. “milk runs”).

New Rules in Effect Now

With the relaxed rules now in effect, it’s critical that retailers learn the new rules and incorporate the requirements into their standard operating procedures as soon as possible. In another Final Rule posted this year, US DOT raised the maximum civil penalties for hazmat shipping violations to $77,114 per day, per violation.

Questions about Shipping Hazardous Materials?

A leader in hazmat compliance training, Lion Technology presents nationwide workshops, online courses, webinars, and on-site training to help shippers identify and perform their responsibilities under US and international hazmat regulations. Learn more about how Lion can help your team keep hazmat shipments safe and in compliance at, or email
Roger Marks is a content writer for Lion Technology Inc., a leader in hazardous materials, hazardous waste, environmental, and safety training in the US. His work has appeared in the publications Inbound Logistics, American Journal of Transportation, Environmental Protection, Material Handling & Logistics, ISHN, and others. He contributes regularly to Lion Technology’s industry compliance blog at Learn more about hazmat training options for your retail shipping team at
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