Digital DRS – Has the UK got the bottle?
It’s a pivotal moment for DRS. On March 24th DEFRA released the long awaited consultation document on Deposit Return Schemes, and last week the Environment Audit Committee shared responses from industry stakeholders on next steps for deposit return schemes; both of which higlighted Digital DRS and the benefits it brings.
DRS is a hot topic – with convenience, fraud, cost, cross borders, carbon footprint and accessibility high on the agenda.
Digital DRS has changed the landscape.
A more conventional DRS (like that used in Norway) asks citizens to recycle their drinks bottles/cans at a central return point, using Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) in large supermarkets or over the counter in smaller stores. As recycling is already strongly associated with the home environment this brings challenges in both consumer behaviour and the cost and carbon footprint of the new infrastructure required to make this happen. The Institute of Economic Affairs expect a cost of over £1bn to set up a more conventional model with ongoing costs of £814m p.a. yet the tangible economic benefits sit at £100m pa largely due to efficient kerbside collections.
A Digital DRS brings technology to the fore. App based, it enables the capture of any in- scope drinks containers (of any size or material) at any chosen recycling return point, so long as it has a unique scannable code. This means users can continue with their good recycling behaviour at home and still take part in the DRS scheme. Using existing infrastructure lowers the cost and carbon footprint a new model would bring, which is better for the economy and the environment. Unique coding also significantly reduces fraud and allows for flexible deposits, an important feature when it comes to cross border contamination and pack sizes.
Recent research undertaken by Queens University Belfast on behalf of CryptoCycle (founders of Reward4Waste) and Bryson Recycling, highlights the key barriers to a conventional DRS system. The top barriers were: having to travel to a central return point, queueing to deposit items, having to use public transport (which could impact those on a lower income or with poor mobility) and the environmental impact of incremental journeys. Many of these findings are also backed up by Kantar research commissioned by DEFRA
Ironically, the very audience a conventional DRS is supposed to appeal to (younger consumers who are more likely to litter on-the-go) are the ones that are most likely to find a conventional DRS more cumbersome and less likely to use it. Without digital DRS we are in danger of doing more damage than good when it comes to reducing litter and increasing good recycling behaviour.
A Digital DRS does not come without its own challenges. For it to work effectively, digitisation would need to take place, with in-scope bottles and cans having unique codes placed on each individual item. Deposit return points would also require a unique code. However, this is without doubt the future of a true circular economy, allowing for traceability of waste, immutability, rich insights and data – for cradle to grave accountability.
The digital DRS movement is growing and gaining momentum.
The Welsh Government recently set up a Digital DRS workshop with key stakeholders to discuss how a Digital DRS could look like in Wales, and across the UK a digital DRS industry group comprising of leading retailers, drinks producers and materials bodies, has been formed to further understand the role that Digital DRS could play.
Within the written evidence gathered by the Environment Audit Committee for ‘next steps for deposit return schemes’ the benefits of kerbside recycling and prevalence of Digital DRS were seen throughout many of the submissions.
Hybrid schemes are also being discussed, where a Digital DRS enhances the conventional model, bridging the gap between the needs of consumers and organisations, with less cost and less environmental impact.
Dave Dalton, CEO, British Glass said: „With glass being 100% and endlessly recyclable, the British glass industry is always working to increase the amount of recycled glass remelted back into new bottles and jars. The glass sector has always embraced innovation having pioneered UK recycling with the introduction of bottles banks in the 1970’s. Like every other aspect of our lives, we believe technology has the potential to radically improve recycling. Instead of relying on expensive reverse vending machines, let’s keep glass recycling at our doorsteps which is convenient, more engaging and better for our environment.”
Adrian Curry, Managing Director at Encirc, added: “We very much favour a digital deposit return scheme as a solution for glass. This would mean people could scan their bottles at home, redeem their deposits online without the need to leave the house, and continue to use their existing household recycling collection bins. We think it would be a far more effective solution than people having to travel on cars and buses to reverse vending machines in shops, laden with bags of glass. The technology is there to do it and there are trials happening right now across the UK to show how a digital version can work well. We know that a traditional in-store deposit scheme just doesn’t work for glass. It promotes the use of more plastic, costs well over a billion pounds to introduce and the impact on recycling rates for glass are questionable at best.”
In Whitehead Northern Ireland, CryptoCycle collaborated with Bryson Recycling and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to run a Reward4Waste trial across 2000 households. The 16 week trial included ‘home kerbside’ and ‘on-the-go’ recycling. Unique codes were placed across all drinks in plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans and HDPE milk, with varying deposit refunds. Using the Reward4Waste app, residents scanned the unique code on their kerbside recycling boxes or on-the-go recycling bins, scanned the bottles and recycled to claim their reward points, which were immediately added to the app.
The trial was supported by Britvic Ireland, PepsiCo and Encirc and proved that Reward4Waste works seamlessly with existing waste infrastructure.
Independent analysis is being undertaken by Queens University Belfast and the full report is due to be released soon.
Tony McGurk, CryptoCycle Chairman commented “All our research is pointing to a Digital DRS being the right solution for the UK, whether as stand-alone or as a hybrid with RVM’s. Reward4Waste has delivered a successful proof of concept with excellent consumer engagement, and we are in talks with industry partners on further trials.
The consumer is at the heart of what we do. The Reward4Waste app journey is simple and seamless, and the back end has patent pending technology including green blockchain and AI for a secure and immutable solution”
Digital DRS comes with unquestionable benefits, but with a highly complex waste industry, new innovations are often daunting. Which leads to the question – has the UK got the bottle?