Alice Rackley, CEO of Digital Deposit Return Scheme (DDRS) technology pioneer Polytag, has issued the following statement following the Government’s response to its second consultation for England, Wales and Northern Ireland:
“As staunch believers in the importance of leveraging digital technologies to reverse stagnating recycling rates, we are encouraged that the Government is willing to consider a DDRS that can can work in tandem with reverse vending machines (RVMs), but disappointed at some of the perceived shortcomings.
“First and foremost, in response to support from both brands and consumers, it is pleasing the English, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments are open to pursuing a different path from Scotland, which has been tormented by concessions, delays and industry-wide criticism. A hybrid model will reduce the number of RVMs, thereby addressing directly many retailers’ concerns regarding costs and retail space, while increasing the number of return points, convenience and ease with which to recycle.
“That said, it is disappointing it has been argued the technology required to change the labelling of containers to facilitate a DDRS is not currently possible. Our partnership with Ocado Retail, in which we printed over 1.6m unique-every-time QR codes onto the retailers’ milk bottles, proved unequivocally that households would be able to redeem their deposits from home, a key component of a DDRS.
“We were equally frustrated that concerns over a digital model were raised regarding set-up and ongoing costs pertaining to increased fraud. Unique-every-time QR codes are in fact proven to reduce fraud and theft by preventing the multiple redemption of deposits by individual actors, a risk that persists with the RVM model.
“In spite of this, we are confident that a DDRS will be included in the October 2025 roll out. It is clear consumers want to do the right thing when it comes to recycling, and a convenient digital model, that enables them to build on their current recycling habits and understanding of QR codes and smartphones, is best placed to support them with their intentions.
“We are looking forward to working closely with the Government to assuage the doubts expressed in this response, by continuing to demonstrate, alongside major brands and retailers, the technology is already at our fingertips, and that a DDRS is a reality.”
The UK is ready for a Digital Deposit Return Scheme
A key benefit of DDRS is that it can be incorporated into the existing kerbside recycling system, so does not require consumers to change their current habits. Rather than having to travel to return points with their in-scope containers, consumers are able to recycle from home by scanning QR codes, redeeming their deposit through a digital wallet on their smartphone.
The convenience of DDRS for consumers was illustrated when Polytag, alongside the Welsh Government, Conwy Council, Ecosurety and WRAP Cymru delivered, the first DDRS trial in Conwy, North Wales. The results of the trial, which involved the application of QR codes to Princes Gate water bottles, showed consumers to be highly engaged, with 97% of households returning at least one bottle over the four week period and 90% scanning four or more.
The trial also demonstrated the myriad benefits for brands, not least, the ability to ‘describe, tag and trace’ it through the circular economy, affording them never-before-seen data on consumer behaviour and how their packaging is being recycled, to inform their sustainability strategies.
Brands and retailers are jumping on board
At the end of last year, Polytag partnered with Ocado Retail to test the viability of a DDRS. Over a period of 12 weeks, 1.6m ‘unique-every-time’ QR codes were applied to the leading online grocery retailers’ milk bottles. In successfully printing these codes at scale, the partnership successfully tested the feasibility of a key component of DDRS, as the ‘unique-every-time’ QR codes, effectively on-pack DDRS technology, will enable households to recover their deposits using smartphones once the legislation comes into effect. Until now, it had only been possible to print ‘unique-every-time’ QR codes using digital label printing, at significantly reduced speeds and far higher costs.
Increasing visibility across the packaging circular economy is one of many major advantages of a DDRS over the RVM model, as Co-op has recognised. Its recent partnership with Polytag, which will commence this year, will use Polytag’s ultraviolet (UV) tag reading technology to enable the retailer to acquire data including the exact number of plastic containers sorted and handled at material recovery facilities (MRFs).