The new “1 for 1 return” obligation for old furniture and its impact on the Supply Chain.

Expert opinion

Olympe CHABERT, co-founder of SmartBack with the support of Pauline CHOSSEC, founder of E-Picking and Eddy RICHAUVET, founder of ShopRunBack
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Financial and logistical nightmare or opportunity to build customer loyalty?

The 1 for 1 recovery obligation, why?

Since the 1st of January 2022, the Anti-Waste Law for a Circular Economy (AGEC) lays down the general principle of free take-back of all old furniture from customers to producers.

To understand the logic, let’s go back to the roots of regulation.

The principle of “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR), based on the “polluter pays” logic, is not new! Created in 1975, it aims to make companies, that put products on the market, responsible for the entire life cycle of these products, from their design to their end of life. Thus, since 2012, furniture producers have paid an eco-contribution to Ecomobilier, the eco-organization dedicated to waste of furniture elements (DEA) so that it takes care of the obligations that this includes: upstream prevention and sorting, dismantling, recycling of old furniture downstream.

But before getting to that point, we must already capture the deposit of old furniture and redirect it to Ecomobilier collection points. This is the whole objective of this new decree: distributors will have to offer their customers the opportunity to take back their old furniture at the point of delivery, at no cost to them, particularly at home in the case of distance selling. However, a French person throws away on average 3 pieces of furniture per year: there is work to be done!

What does this change for players in the furniture industry?

Distributors have two obligations:

  • highlight the option in the customer purchasing journey (technological development on their e-commerce site)
  • organize this recovery (logistics operation).

The reflex was to turn to carriers to ask them to develop this service. But it's not that easy! Already, there is a lot of educational work to be done with the customer to explain the offer and its terms, filter requests, take cancellations into account. Then, the old furniture returned is not packaged and of varying sizes: they can therefore easily damage the new products to be delivered. This would also involve more breaking of loads, handling and organization of its tour. Finally, knowing what to do with recovered products is not an easy task. It is unthinkable to bring these old products back to the distributor's warehouse, but it is complicated to find a solution adapted to the products, locally, while limiting storage and the time spent managing them.

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How do we go about it?

Let's focus on innovation to structure the sector! We must implement new processes, connect stakeholders, automate the orchestration of the different stages of recovery.

For this, we can take inspiration from tech start-ups which are set on digitizing and simplifying the e-commerce returns process. ShopRunBack has succeeded in this great challenge by increasing the rate of revaluation of returns for distributors and brands by more than 50%. This is thanks to optimization of the different links in the value chain ranging from customer declaration on the merchant site to the qualification of reverse logistics flows for return to stock or second life circuit.

Logistics start-ups, such as E-Picking with its XXL automated lockers located throughout France, could make their solution available to optimize the collection of 1 for 1 furniture returns. Batches of furniture could thus be assembled locally in E-Picking's secure lockers to then be transported to suitable Ecofurniture recycling points. Working DEA flows in lockers would not only make it possible to consolidate flows, but also to control: re-delivery time slots (accessible 24 hours a day), the cost of the last/first mile, and so-called “buffer” storage while guaranteeing a high level of security and traceability.

And how do we benefit from this new law?

As you will have understood, the implementation of “1 for 1 return” and the organization of a recycling network represent significant costs for sellers. This new clearance service is “offered” to the customer but it would be wrong to say that it is free. It is therefore important to make consumers aware of the real cost of this approach, and to benefit from it.

Indirectly, this new regulation encourages brands to look at their environmental impact, to rethink the life cycle of their products and to listen to the expectations of their customers. Today, 88% of consumers want more engagement from brands.

Why not make the “1 for 1 recovery” an opportunity to commit, for real, to the circular economy? The law speaks of one-for-one recovery of old furniture, legally considered “Waste – DEA”. It was clear that many of the products collected are still in good condition, do not necessarily deserve to end up in the dumpster and could make many people happy.

842,000 tonnes of DEA were collected in 2020 and only 5% were reused, so we can clearly do better! Our goal: to reach 60% of reuse!

How ? SmartBack has developed a turnkey 1 for 1 return management solution for distributors whose objective is to save as many products as possible from the dumpster. When the customer decides to get rid of their furniture, they entrust it to SmartBack which diagnoses the condition of the product and offers it to an association in its network, as close as possible to their home. Thus, the end customer gets doubly happy: by purchasing a new piece of furniture and giving their old one to a committed local actor, who will find it a new owner.

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