Contemporary business models need to re-imagine the production and distribution of goods and services embedding social, economic, and environmental goals concurrently. To this end, reverse logistics in streamlining a circular economy (take, make, use, reuse, repair, and recycle) catapulted to the top of the discussion for collecting and distributing products. Yet, little is empirically known about the role of reverse logistics in the circular economy. This study attempts to fill this knowledge gap in theory and practice through a multiple case study approach including 40 semi-structured interviews with reverse logistics specialists from the four largest retailing firms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Findings reveal multiple ways by which reverse logistics contributes to a circular economy: for instance, reverse logistics enables firms to develop a circular product design; the combination of reverse flow with the forward flow consolidates the high volume of products, thus mitigating waste; use of innovative tools (robots, autonomous bikes) in reverse logistics increases the used products’ return rate and thereby enhancing recycling; technological advances (e.g. big data and IoT) in reverse logistics help trace the product thus reducing waste. The paper offers several valuable insights for practitioners to build a circular economy via reverse logistics (waste reduction, responsible consumption, and sustainable logistics). Our study also contributes to multiple United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 11, SDG 12, and SDG 13).
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