Resource Futures commissioned by Welsh Government to explore Digital Deposit Return Scheme feasibility.

14 November 2021

Resource Futures is pleased to announce the award of a contract with Welsh government to research and evaluate if and how a Digital Deposit Return Scheme (DDRS) might be implemented in Wales, England, and Northern Ireland, and to establish the benefits of such a scheme.

Working in close collaboration with the Project Steering Group, comprising Welsh Government, WRAP Cymru, and the DDRS Industry Working Group (IWG) we will first formalise project requirements before leading two distinct phases of research.

“We’ve been interested for some time now in the potential of how digital technology might support a deposit return scheme particularly if we can utilise our excellent kerbside collection systems in Wales.

“Imagine, there are 1.3million households in Wales, could each of these become a return point for drink containers? Although Welsh Government has commissioned this work it is being taken forward on a collaborative basis with excellent support from members of the Digital DRS Industry Working Group, GS1 UK and others from across the sector.”

Howard Davies
Policy Manager Packaging and Plastics, Welsh Government

An initial deep dive into key questions around DDRS design and feasibility will include interviews with a wide range of experts to gather their views. The second phase seeks to explore various DDRS designs that could emerge, based on new approaches possible. Thanks in part to advancements in technology, joining together the many distinct components of any solution to better understand how a new system might work end-to-end.

Ultimately, our collective goal is to explore opportunities and risks in detail, to inform thinking and add clarity and context where there currently is very little.  Project outputs will contribute to our body of knowledge and amalgamate different views to provide an independent analysis of feasibility.

Digital Deposit Return Scheme
Could Digital Deposit Return Schemes (DDRS) make it easier for consumers to recycle their waste, reduce littering, and improve the quality of recyclate?

What is a Digital Deposit Return Scheme?

  • Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) incentivise consumers to recycle their waste to redeem a financial deposit.
  • They typically involve returning drinks containers to reverse vending machines (RVMs) located at retailers and manual returns at convenience stores.
  • The aim of a Deposit Return Scheme is to help reduce litter of drinks containers and improve both the quality and quantity of recycling.

In a traditional DRS, each time a consumer purchases a drink in a single-use container they are charged a small deposit which is then redeemed when the empty container is dropped into a central return point. The deposit serving to incentive the responsible disposal of the container; and in turn reducing littering and improving the quality and quantity of recyclate.

Digital Deposit Return Scheme

Studies have shown that such schemes are generally successful in practice and with innovations in digital technology there are now a range of options when it comes to how a DRS might be implemented. One concept under consideration could allow any householder with a smartphone or tablet to scan a serialised code on their drink container using an app, redeeming their deposit digitally, before placing the container in their home recycling bin for collection.

“Allowing householders the option to redeem and return in-scope DRS containers at the kerbside could place the UK at the forefront of digitalisation and innovation. However, several key operational and practical questions must be investigated before fully understanding its feasibility, particularly with such a wide range of stakeholders potentially impacted.”

Carla Worth
Consultant, Resource Futures

This approach would not only offer flexibility and convenience to the consumer, and in theory make the action of recycling easier, but it could also take advantage of existing waste systems. The costs, benefits, challenges, and opportunities having been proposed, R&D is still ongoing and there are currently no such schemes are operating at a national scale in the UK.

From producers doing their own research into unique product serialisation, technology providers facilitating DDRS trials with local authorities, and NGOs producing fact sheets and position papers, DDRS is now generating significant interest from stakeholders across the value chain.

This research aims to add some much-needed clarity to discussions around Digital DRSIt’s an exciting area to be involved in, at the cutting edge of digital innovation for the sector, and feeds into wider themes of data and tracking to enable better circular economy practice in resources and waste.

George Cole
UK Policy Lead, Resource Futures

An earlier Resource Futures study highlighted how an effective DDRS can reduce the cost of implementation by over £3 billion over 11 years, providing a benefit-to-cost ratio more than twice the traditional form of DRS. Our research did however identify areas the implementation of a DDRS would benefit from further understanding. Our latest study aims to address some of those knowledge gaps and explore key questions of feasibility. Welsh Government, Defra and DAERA will soon be publishing the design of the DRS covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the governments’ response to the DRS consultation which closed in June 2021, this project is significant in its timing with many interested to learn if and how Government will include consideration of a digitally enabled DRS in their response, and what it will mean for different actors in resources and waste management.