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Digital Deposit Return Schemes

Technology is now available to enable a kerbside, Digital Deposit Return Scheme (DDRS) – a credible alternative to traditional reverse vending machine systems.

Digitally-enabled deposit return schemes are more convenient for consumers, preferred by retailers, lower cost and less carbon intensive, as well as being able to leverage existing local authority collection methods.

They also provide the added value of delivering accurate data collection and analytics throughout the circular packaging economy.

What is a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

We are pleased that recycling/recovery rates for drinks containers have increased over the years, but there is still room for improvement.

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) puts a small charge on the cost of an item of packaging which is returned to a customer when the item is recycled via a dedicated recycling scheme. This ‘deposit’ acts as an incentive to support recycling as it encourages a consumer to return the empty container.

Retailers selling in-scope containers will add the deposit to the purchase of the item. Although the range of in-scope containers varies around the world, many governments are proposing that PET bottles, steel and aluminium cans and glass bottles will be part of the scheme.

Deposit Return Scheme status

Governments around the world are at different stages in implementing Deposit Return Schemes. Many European countries have passed legislation, using traditional reverse vending machine solutions to great success.

As technology advances and countries continue to pass legislation to introduce Deposit Return Schemes, we are seeing more interest in digital solutions to make schemes more convenient to consumers.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Government is planning to introduce a DRS by late 2024. DEFRA is currently reviewing submissions to its consultation on Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.



The Scottish Government regulated for a DRS that includes all types of drinks in containers between 50ml and three litres in size.

Under Scotland’s reverse vending machine-based (RVM) DRS regulations, all retailers who sell in-scope drinks for take away must operate a return point. Other organisations for example, transport hubs or shopping centres can apply to become a return point.

Originally planned to launch in July 2022, the scheme has been delayed indefinitely due to variety of issues with the implementation of the scheme.



The Irish government published draft regulations for a deposit return scheme in late 2021. The regulations will place a number of obligations on retailers, including itemising the deposit on all till receipts, registering with a scheme administrator and taking back empty containers.

The scheme is expected to become operational across the country in Quarter 3 of 2022.


Rest of the world

The world’s first legally binding Deposit Return Scheme for single-use drinks containers was introduced in 1970 in British Columbia, Canada.

Europe’s first Deposit Return Scheme was introduced in Sweden in 1984. In 2002, Germany became the first big European country to adopt a bottle deposit scheme. However, one of the most successful DRS roll-outs has been in Lithuania where there was a recovery of 70% of drinks containers in its first year, and 90% in the second year.

Deposit Return Schemes are already active in 10 European countries, and 12 additional countries have voted in favour of legislation to introduce similar schemes by 2022 or 2023.

The main aims of a DRS

Through a deposit return scheme, governments want to increase the recycling rate of drinks containers and reduce littering. Introducing these schemes will change consumer behaviour to encourage higher levels of drinks container recycling.

  • Increase recycling rates for in-scope containers
  • Increase the quality of recycling to encourage closed loop recycling
  • Reduce litter
  • Support the drive to become net zero by 2050

The future should be digital

A Digital Deposit Return Scheme (DDRS) is an inclusive technology solution. It leverages existing kerbside collection infrastructure and does not require consumers to change their current habits. Households can reclaim their deposit conveniently without leaving their home.

Polytag is at the heart of this movement, developing innovative RecTech solutions that make DRS systems even more attractive and convenient for consumers both at home and ‘away from home’.

Polytag technology uses serialised tags on packaging, linked to scanning of containers via a smartphone app, which allows consumers to scan items themselves to redeem their deposit. A far more convenient way to return items into the recycling stream.

  • Flexible return points generating consumer convenience
  • Integration into the kerbside collections system allowing deposits to be redeemed at the home, using existing infrastructure
  • Reduced volume of beverage containers needing collection via a retailer
  • Fraud prevention
  • Lower implementation and running costs

This technology is developing rapidly in response to interest from across the industry value chain, including the retail sector and the packaging producers

Learn more about our technology

Digital Deposit Return Scheme in action

Download the results of our highly successful pilot that ran in North Wales during the summer of 2021. We achieved a 97% engagement rate and 9 in 10 households scanning 4 out of a possible 6 bottles,. This demonstrates that Digital Deposit Return Schemes can be highly effective.

Download our pilot report

How does a Digital Deposit Return Scheme work

Step 1

Consumer buys beverage and pays for the deposit

Step 2

Consumer enjoys the beverage

Step 3

Consumer scans the packaging and places in their kerbside collection container

Step 4

Consumer receives deposit back

The benefits to consumers

  • Rewarded for recycling
  • Convenient depositing of containers in household recycling
  • Easy to use apps that requires scanning one code to receive deposit

The benefits to businesses

  • Streamlined recycling collection using existing infrastructure
  • Cost-efficient and less carbon intensive to produce and install than reverse vending machines
  • Less physical space taken up on retailers’ shopfloors

DDRS will benefit the environment

It is not just about convenience though. During our Digital Deposit Return Scheme (DDRS) pilot in North Wales, we used data from a report published by the Irish Waste Management Association to compare carbon emissions associated with conventional DRS to those likely to result from a kerbside-based, DDRS.

As a result, it was estimated that in Wales alone, the net benefit in terms of carbon emissions derived from adopting kerbside DRS would be approximately 13,000tCO2e per annum (equivalent to burning 6,500t of coal each year).

This net reduction in carbon emissions from kerbside DRS is predominantly achieved through:

  • No need for households to make individual trips to collection points (estimated at 8,000 tCO2e)
  • No additional infrastructure required for reverse vending machine manufacture, system setup and installation (estimated at 4,000 tCO2e)
  • No additional transport to take collected material to Material Recycling Facilities (estimated at 1,000 tCO2e)

If we extrapolate this net reduction of carbon emissions over the next 29 years – to the Net Zero target date of 2050 – then the introduction of a kerbside DRS could save up to 377,000 tCO2e.


The 11 advantages of a Digital Deposit Return Scheme

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