Press Release: Digital DRS Has the UK got the bottle?

April 13, 2021 | Written by Rachel Warren

Industry calls for Digital DRS to be included in the Deposit Return Scheme for the UK

It’s a pivotal time for DRS. In March 2021 DEFRA released the long awaited consultation document on Deposit Return Schemes, and the Environment Audit Committee also shared responses from industry stakeholders on next steps for deposit return schemes.

Digital DRS has changed the landscape, alleviating concerns over convenience, fraud, cost, cross borders, carbon footprint and accessibility. 

A Digital DRS brings technology to the fore. App based, it enables the capture of 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[1]

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.

Digital DRS is now on the agenda, with hybrid schemes being discussed, where a Digital DRS enhances the conventional RVM model, bridging the gap between the needs of consumers and organisations, with less cost and less environmental impact. DEFRA have agreed that this is an interesting area that needs further exploration.

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.”

Proven Trial

Trial launched by Minister Poots in Whitehead Northern Ireland

CryptoCycle created Reward4Waste, an app that rewards users for recycling or returning their packaging. The simple to use and intuitive app ‘captures’ good recycling behaviour and rewards users for recycling. Captured items are tracked through the circular economy, bringing cradle to grave accountability. Using green blockchain and AI, Reward4Waste brings a level of consumer behavioural data around sustainability and recycling never seen before. 

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. 

Initial results are positive. 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.[1] 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?

For further information or for a further interview please contact hello@reward4waste or visit

L-R Tony McGurk, Rachel Warren, Steve Clarke

—————— notes ———————-

  1. A DRS is expected to cost over £1 billion in its first year and £814 million per annum thereafter. The tangible economic benefits are expected to be less than £100 million per year. In financial terms, a DRS would be highly inefficient, largely because kerbside collection already recovers 72 per cent of these containers. Institute of Economic Affairs 2019
  2. Consumer Research to inform design of an effective Deposit Return Scheme – Kantar Research commissioned by DEFRA Aug 2019
  3. Factors such as convenience, ease of use, and time spent at return points will carry a heavy influence of usage of the scheme” “It may be more challenging to shift people’s behaviours away from home. A DRS must be designed to be convenient and time efficient to ensure it is accessible to all groups in society”Consumer Research to inform design of an effective Deposit Return Scheme – Kantar Research commissioned by DEFRA Aug 2019

    Younger consumers (16-24) are less likely to use a conventional DRS. They find recycling ‘burdensome’ and were less likely to make lifestyle changes to recycleConsumer Research to inform design of an effective Deposit Return Scheme – Kantar Research commissioned by DEFRA Aug 2019

4. 30% of people use the bus or walk to the supermarket and 4% have someone else shop for them Dept of Transport

There is a cost to consumers and a high carbon cost for their extra journeys. The cost to consumers per Scottish Govt impact assessment of these additional journeys is between 0.5p and 1.5p per container which equates to a staggering £125 – 375m for the UK and a very damaging CO2 impact.

77% of people now do some of their supermarket shopping online (Waitrose BBC article)

91% of adults have access to a smartphone in 2020 per Deloitte Digital Consumer Trends

23% of households do not have a car accessible to them (Statista 2019)

The economic, ethical and carbon footprint do not stack up. The cost estimated for introducing a conventional DRS is £1bn with ongoing costs of £814m p.a.

The same amount of expenditure (or indeed far less) could upgrade the entire country’s MRF facilities, add further capacity of leading edge sorting and processing technology, enable the UK to properly process all of its plastic waste and stop exporting it to countries that frequently do not process it properly

Enable huge reductions in carbon footprint from reduction in transport costs of waste material by using existing infrastructure and increase in material captured and thereby a reduction in virgin plastic use

Queens University are carrying out independent research on the Reward4Waste trial in Whitehead Northern Ireland, full analysis will be available soon. Top line findings show
– Resistance to a conventional DRS, with questions around the carbon footprint
– Reluctance to go out of the home to recycle
– Strong support for a digital DRS solution
– Reward4Waste app simple and easy to use
– Consumers aged between 13-80 regularly took part in the trial

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