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

Reward4Waste is an app-based recycling solution – a unique digital deposit return scheme, or digital DRS

Our latest blog shares more information on DRS (Deposit Return Schemes) and Digital DRS.

We feel passionately about the right DRS scheme for the UK, please do get in touch on if you want to find out more……

What is a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)?

A deposit return scheme or DRS is a recycling system where people pay a small deposit for drinks containers at point of purchase, which is then refunded when the container is recycled. 

The aim of a Deposit Return Scheme is to reduce the amount of littering and boost recycling rates. By adding a value to something currently treated as ‘throwaway’, drinks bottles and cans (particularly plastic bottles) are viewed as a valuable resource and not just disposable objects that ends up as rubbish.

DRS is scheduled to be rolled out in the UK in 2023 although there is talk of this moving back, and we are currently waiting for the second government consultation which will include specific details, including the material and drinks to be included in scope. In Scotland the plan is to introduce DRS earlier, although again, recent news is that this date is being reviewed.

Organisations across the UK and Ireland are working hard to identify a DRS solution that works for all involved – the manufactures, the waste industry, local government, brand owners and most importantly – the consumers – people using the scheme on a day to day basis. 

Why is a DRS necessary?

The UK recycled only 45% of its household waste in 2018, meaning that a staggering 14.5 million tonnes of waste had to be either put in landfill, incinerated or exported abroad

Less than a third of all plastic in the UK is recycled. The remaining ends up in landfill or as litter, on the streets or in the ocean. 

A good deal of this waste is generated by single-use drink containers.

What is a conventional DRS model

Using a conventional DRS model, the consumer returns their empty drinks containers to a central deposit point, typically using Reverse Vending Machines or manual collection points such as more manual, retailer driven, Over The Counter methods.

Digital DRS

Reward4Waste is a Digital DRS, bringing return functionality to your phone.

Reward4Waste operates across all infrastructure, working with and enhancing a conventional DRS model or as a stand-alone system, bringing simplicity and convenience by allowing users to recycle at home, on the go, over the counter or using a smart bin or RVM.

Conventional DRS vs. Digital DRS

Do we have to make a choice between Conventional DRS and Digital DRS?


Reward4Waste can work as a standalone Digital DRS, or alongside a more conventional DRS model, bringing a hybrid solution with more flexibility and benefits to all. 

We’ve spoken to several retailers who, for a multitude of reasons, do not want an RVM in their stores. For them, Reward4Waste brings the perfect balance, bringing a cost effective model with consumer convenience, insights and rich data.

We’ve also spoken to many waste organisations who are concerned that a more conventional model removes valuable packaging from their existing waste streams, and to brands who want to step up and understand exactly what happens to their packaging once it leaves their factories or stores, and are keen to see real time data and insights around their consumers recycling behaviour.

So, how does Reward4Waste work? 

Reward4Waste video

Reward4Waste is an app that rewards and incentivises people for their recycling, tracking items through the circular economy. 

Look behind the simple to use app and you will find intelligent technology – blockchain and AI working together to bring a depth of data and insight on recycling and the circular economy never seen before.

Front end simplicity

Back end intelligence

Successful proof of concept

The first public trial of the Reward4Waste digital DRS took place between September 30th 2020 and January 31st 2021 in Whitehead, NI. 

The whole Whitehead population (2,000 HH) was invited to take part through a marketing campaign, those interested had to download the app from the app store, purchase products as they normally would from SPAR Whitehead, and recycle using the Reward4Waste app. Live data and insights were captured.

Participating items included plastic drinks bottles (PET), drinks cans, glass and HDPE milk containers. No levy was placed on participating items, reward points were given at each recycle, that could be redeemed for SPAR vouchers or donated to charity. 

The trial was in collaboration with Bryson Recycling and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, with proud support from Britvic Ireland, PepsiCo and Encirc.

This trial was supported by the local Spar supermarket. More than 5,000 items were recycled and half of the Reward Points were donated, equating to over £2000. 

Queens University Belfast are delivering an independent analysis of the trial with support from WRAP NI. As well as learning from those who took part in the trial, we will be paying particular attention to those who didn’t take part to understand the reasons behind that.

We believe in doing things right in order to learn to optimise our offering.

Get in touch

If you are interested in hearing more, please get in touch on to set up a meeting or have a chat with the team.

This is the future for all returnable packaging

The consumer journey

Front end simplicity – back end intelligence. No more opaque provenance. No more confused citizens.

The journey may differ by project, but all share a common goal, to make it easy for people to return items for reuse or recycling. Reducing waste and keep valuable items in the circular economy for longer.


1. Get your phone
2. Scan the code
3. Be engaged
4. Return item
5. Get deposit / rewards

Digital Intelligence

We’ve created a platform that you can depend on. Using unique coding, green blockchain and AI to prevent fraud, bring transparency and manage provenance.

Digital <strong>Intelligence</strong>

The Blog

We are seeing more people than ever relying on connected tech to help them manage almost every aspect of daily life, with the last 12 months seeing remarkable growth when it comes to digital usage – the last 12 months have brought about a decade’s worth of behavioural change

The <strong>Blog</strong>

Rich data

The Reward4Waste app makes recycling easy – incentivising and rewarding people for good recycling behaviour. The app captures any uniquely coded item and registers its recycle through the uniquely coded bin or return point. 

Rich <strong>data</strong>

Making recycling easy

The Reward4Waste app makes recycling easy – incentivising and rewarding people for good recycling behaviour. The app captures any uniquely coded item and registers its recycle through the uniquely coded bin or return point. 

Making recycling <strong>easy</strong>

The Team

Reward4Waste is created by a team with expertise in technology and brands, our team is growing to reflect the need for a trusted platform that enables circularity through unique coding which inspires people to do the right thing.

The <strong>Team</strong>



We are known as pioneers in digital returns, having run 2 world-first Digital DRS projects in 2020/2021 and in 2022 we collaborated with Danone on an evian project at Wimbledon, reaching over 500,00 visitors. Our cup reuse project can be found at Blenheim Palace and is due to roll out this summer 2023.

Please get in touch and we can chat through how re-universe can work in your organisation.

1. Transforming consumer behaviour around reuse and recycling – the app incentivises and rewards consumers for good behaviour, whilst having the ability to bring transparency and traceability to the supply chain

2. Bringing incremental economic value through the recycled and re-used items – a true circular economy

3. Immutable, secure and auditable – tracking packaging end to end with smarter solutions

4. Capturing data and insights over time to understand consumer behaviour

5. Depending on the scheme, re-universe can work within existing waste management and infrastucture – reducing costs and carbon footprint

6. re-universe offers a real chance to accelerate change and make a positive difference

7. re-universe brings consumer ease to reuse and recycling

All of our live projects can be found on our website, we are working on a number of projects yet to appear so watch this space!

If you would like to talk to us about a potential collaboration please get in touch at

We are not currently raising funds through external funding rounds.

However, we are always interested in talking to potential investors, particularly those who can bring relevant knowledge and experience.

If you are interested in potentially investing in us then please contact us by emailing

With billions of single use coffee cups ending up UK in landfill every year, it’s encouraging to see the rise in returnable and reusable cup schemes.

There really is no excuse for single use – but for mass engagement and take-up reuse has to be easy and frictionless.

So what’s the answer?

We believe it is re-universe. Our pioneering digital returns platform drives behavioural change and brings rich data and insights.

Tried and tested at Blenheim Palace in collaboration with Circular&Co. and rolling out across the summer, over 95% of users have said the platform is easy/very easy to use.

If you are looking for a return-for-reuse cup scheme that offers the below benefits (and more!) then get in touch…

😁 Consumer benefits
👍 No need to download an app
👍 No need to register bank details before use
👍 Return simply through tech-enabled returns
👍 Get deposit back into nominated bank account with minimal / no bank charges – quickly, easily, securely
👍 Donate to charity or have a floating deposit that can be used again and again

😁 Brand benefits
👍 Behavioural change insights to drive returns
👍 Validation of returns to reduce fraud
👍 Rich data and insights
👍 Cup-to-cup traceability
👍 Measurable scheme
👍 Multi-lingual and multi-brand
👍 Future-proofed for scaleability

Want to find out more?
Drop us an email 👉
We’d love to hear from you.

Deposit return schemes (DRS) are becoming more and more common all around the world. When you purchase a drink in a plastic bottle (in some cases glass) you’ll be charged a small deposit at point of purchase. When you return the bottle for recycling, you will receive your deposit back.

How your deposit is returned to you is dependent on how the country runs their DRS. In some nations, you’ll need to return the bottle to a Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) at a superstore or other retail location. In other countries, the bottle will need to be returned to a designated recycling point (like a council run tip or waste management site). Regardless of the location, the deposit is always able to be claimed back.

The UK government has announced a DRS will be introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2024, with Scotland looking to introduce a DRS earlier.

re-universe have developed a system where deposits for beverage containers will be returned through an app that gives an instant reward or loyalty card style collection of points dependent on how the consumer wishes to be rewarded for recycling. This is known as Digital DRS and we are known in the industry as the Digital DRS pioneers.

We have run 2 World-first projects in Northern Ireland and Dublin and look forward to running more Digital DRS projects in the future.

We are really excited to be working with Blenheim Palace to eradicate single use, starting with cups, using our pioneering digital returnable cup scheme this summer, in collaboration with Circular&Co.

We couldn’t be prouder!

“We are rolling out a digital return-for-reuse cup scheme, eradicating single-use cups across Blenheim Palace. This important initiative eradicates single-use cups across Blenheim and reflects our commitment to becoming carbon neutral on scopes 1-3 of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) protocol by 2027.

Visitors to Blenheim will be offered the choice of a ceramic or returnable cup when they purchase a hot drink. They will pay a deposit which they will get back when they return the cup for reuse.

Using pioneering digital technology from re-universe, there is no need to download an app or register before use. This was important to us because we want our visitors to be able to buy a coffee quickly and easily – without adding friction to their visit. When the cup is returned visitors are offered multiple options, including the ability to get their refund back digitally, donate to charity or other green initiatives.

We’ve been working with re-universe and Circular&Co. on this groundbreaking project for many months, which included running a pilot and learning and optimising in readiness for full rollout this summer.

We look forward to sharing lessons learnt and best practices to help other like-minded organisations jump on board and eradicate single use.”

David Green – Head of Innovation

re-universe technology is the cornerstone of many recycling and reuse projects that you may already be involved in! Please look at our website for more information.

Global smartphone ownership grows daily. According to recent research, in the UK 95% of all households in the UK own a mobile phone, with 78% of those using a smart phone and this number is growing fast.

Having an app based solution makes re-universe easy and convenient to use, however, for those without a smart phone, we have a home scan option.

re-universe uses GS1 global standards unique codes, or serialisation, which are placed on each individual item (either on the physical product or a receipt). We also use RFID technology for track and trace benefits.

Digitisation is without doubt the future of a true circular economy, allowing for traceability of waste, immutability, flexibility, rich insights and data – for cradle to grave accountability.

We are GS1 partners.

Contact us to improve
your circularity

We can help you achieve your DRS, EPR & sustainability targets.

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