‘Game-changing’: Ocado pilots digital deposit return scheme to incentivise recycling

Ocado customers can earn a 20p reward by scanning and recycling their milk packaging using their smartphones.

By scanning the unique QR codes on Ocado’s own-brand milk bottles, customers will receive the reward, which will be deposited into their digital wallet in the Bower recycling app.

This reward is equivalent to the future deposit amount under the upcoming Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) legislation.

After the initial 20,000 scans, alternative benefits will be offered to customers instead of the monetary reward.

Ocado Retail’s senior packaging and sustainability manager Laura Fernandez said: “To be able to launch a workable DDRS that actually pays consumers back for recycling is a game-changing move for recycling and the circular economy in the UK.

“We already know that Ocado shoppers have an appetite for such a scheme as when we surveyed them last year, 80% were likely or very likely to scan a QR code for a deposit return.”

The unique QR codes on packaging can only be scanned once, preventing multiple claims.

The Bower app validates the claim by using GPS technology near registered home recycling bins. QR codes also provide real-time data on packaging lifecycles, helping brands optimise operations and communicate sustainability efforts.

Invisible tags on product labels are counted in material recycling facilities, linking consumer rewards to recycling counts, showcasing a complete DDRS solution.

Resource Futures, an independent environmental consultancy, projected that a DDRS system could save £3.4bn over 11 years compared to traditional DRS, due to the elimination of the requirement to install reverse vending machines nationwide.

According to the company, DDRS is expected to have a lower carbon footprint as consumers can recycle packaging through kerbside collections.

National DRS

The Government estimates that the UK uses approximately 14 billion plastic drinks bottles and nine billion cans annually, with a significant portion either discarded or littered.

Earlier this year, the Government proposed a postponement of the nationwide implementation of DRS until 2025. Some industry bodies had advocated for a delay to avoid placing extra costs on consumers and businesses amid present economic turmoil. Environmental groups, however, expressed anger and disappointment. Some businesses also pointed out that significant investments have been made already, and they don’t want this work to be wasted.

Polytag’s chief executive officer Alice Rackley added: “In its response to the DRS consultation in January, the UK Government encouraged innovators to continue to demonstrate that the technology for a DDRS exists.

“Our partnership with Bower and Ocado Retail is the next step in demonstrating the viability of a DDRS in the UK.”

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