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Explaining a Deposit Return Scheme

A Deposit Return Scheme (sometimes referred to as a Deposit Refund System, or DRS) is a deposit mechanism which seeks to improve recycling rates and improve the quality of collected waste material that can be recycled. Thanks to the higher quality of materials being recycled, the plastic can be repurposed into high-quality recycled plastic. This is better for the environment and reduces the amount of ‘virgin plastic’ being used each year.

By placing an extra deposit cost on a product at the point of sale, consumers can be incentivised to return them and secure their refund once they are returned to a collection point.

Polytag has been working to create a new breed of transformative digital DRS technology (DDRS). Digital DRS technologies are well suited to the UK’s resource and waste system for two reasons: the existence of a fully functioning kerbside waste and recycling collection service across the country, and consumers’ familiarity with QR codes post-Covid.

While DRS can be used on a range of different products, the focus of DRS across the four devolved nations in the UK is plastic, aluminium, and glass drinks bottles. These are made of high-quality, food-grade materials which can be easily recycled when separated from other packaging waste.

Everything you need to know about DDRS

The roll-out of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations in the UK heralds a vitally important shift in the transition from a linear to a more circular economy. EPR ultimately seeks to make producers responsible for the full lifecycle of the products they put on the market. Doing so, EPR helps to maximise the value of material waste and reduce the negative impact it has on the environment.

Under EPR, different systems will be implemented to manage the various waste streams, from Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) to single-use packaging. Modulated fees will be introduced, making the fees paid by producers vary according to the components involved in the packaging. The fees will incentivise producers to design their products so that repairability, recyclability and durability are maximised.

When it comes to packaging, however, the situation is slightly different: 90% of plastic packaging put on the market is single-use. On this basis, repairability and durability are less relevant. Incentivising reuse is certainly crucial, but maximising its recyclability is key.

Implementing a system that can help improve packaging recycling rates and material recapture was recognised by the Government in its 2018 Resources & Waste Strategy as a crucial step in the transition to a circular economy.

The UK has since committed to implementing policies which will help reduce the negative impact of single-use packaging on the environment and to become a world leader in resource efficiency. The implementation of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) across all four devolved nations will support these ambitions, tackling the pressing issues of littering, CO2 emissions and resource waste and enabling a transition to a circular waste economy.

In the UK, consumers get through an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, 9 billion drinks cans and 5 billion glass bottles each year. Around 8 billion of these drinks containers are either landfilled, burnt, or lost into our natural environments as pollution.

Not only does a failure to recycle these containers cause environmental damage, but it also represents a huge material value loss too. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that globally, 95% of the value of plastic packaging material alone is lost to the economy each year, with a value of $80-120 billion USD annually.

The introduction of a DRS ultimately encourages behaviour change around material waste. For consumers, DRS incentivises recycling – and, by default, reduces littering. DRS also improve the possibility for councils to collect high-quality packaging materials in greater quantities. What’s more, the introduction of DRS can help material waste retain its value – and, in the case of plastic, help ensure the security of supply for recycled PET (rPET) which has seen a spike in demand following the introduction of the UK’s Plastic Packaging Tax which came into operation on 1st April 2022.

DRS now appear in 45 countries around the world. European countries are host to some of the most successful programmes, with recapture rates as high as 94%.

The timings of DRS roll-out vary across the UK, but all have been delayed by the global pandemic, and associated financial and administrational challenges being faced by producers.

Currently, Scotland are set to be the first of the devolved nations to implement a DRS, with kick off scheduled for 16th August 2023.

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are set to follow later, and Defra is expected to publish a consultation response in late 2022. Expectations are that a DRS would be implemented in 2024 at the earliest.

Over the last few years, a new breed of DRS has emerged. Digital DRS technologies are well suited to the UK’s resource and waste system for two reasons: they take advantage of existing kerbside waste and recycling collection service across the country, and allow consumers to redeem their deposit through the use of QR codes via a smartphone app.

Polytag has developed a solution to ensure that consumers can use a DDRS using the existing infrastructure in houses across the UK. Digital DRS technologies such as Polytag require brands to apply a unique ID code to every piece of packaging that is in-scope for the DRS. This code enables the packaging to be ‘tracked and traced’ using app-based technology on mobile phones and smart-camera devices throughout the circular supply chain; tagged packaging can be returned for recycling by households through existing kerbside waste collection services, whilst still enabling them to claim their deposit back in a digital wallet linked to the app on their mobile phone.

To read more about our trials, click here.

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.

Conwy Pilot

Enabling the plastic circular economy through game changing technology

Polytag is the leader in Digital Deposit Return Schemes. Using the existing recycling infrastructure used by local authorities, the Polytag Solution makes it as easy as possible for consumers to recycle their drinks containers and claim their deposits back, without changing their existing recycling habits. Through the use of QR code and app-based mobile phone technology, consumers can easily redeem their deposits at home, making participating in the DRS scheme convenient and accessible.

The Polytag solution also helps businesses save valuable space that would be taken up by a reverse vending machine and is less carbon intensive.

Data collected through the Polytag app is accurately collected and stored throughout the packaging circular economy.

Enabling the plastic circular economy through game changing technology

Polytag is the leader in Digital Deposit Return Schemes. Using the existing recycling infrastructure used by local authorities, the Polytag Solution makes it as easy as possible for consumers to recycle their drinks containers and claim their deposits back, without changing their existing recycling habits. Through the use of QR code and app-based mobile phone technology, consumers can easily redeem their deposits at home, making participating in the DRS scheme convenient and accessible.

The Polytag solution also helps businesses save valuable space that would be taken up by a reverse vending machine and is less carbon intensive.

Data collected through the Polytag app is accurately collected and stored throughout the packaging circular economy.

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