Ocado’s digital deposit return scheme trial yields positive results

The pilot was launched in partnership with recycling technology firm Polytag and recycling app Bower. It was touted as the UK’s first DDRS.

Since July 14, more than 3,000 Ocado customers have claimed monetary rewards for recycling their two and four-pint milk bottles.

Customers obtained the reward by scanning Polytag’s distinctive QR codes on Ocado’s own-brand milk bottles, and this reward was then placed in their digital wallet within the Bower recycling app.

The end-of-trial report reveals that during the trial, more than 20,000 Ocado Retail milk bottles were scanned by these consumers through their smartphones before being placed in their home kerbside recycling, totalling reward claims of up to £4,000.

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

The existing DRS model, primarily relying on reverse vending machines (RVMs), has been a subject of debate within consumer and industry circles, mainly due to concerns about the financial and logistical implications associated with RVMs.

Polytag provides customers with a digital option that involves the use of one-time-use QR codes integrated into packaging labels during the printing process. Additionally, invisible UV tags are applied to these labels, enabling tracking and tracing back to designated recycling centres, thereby offering brands and retailers insights into the movement of their products and packaging.

Polytag’s chief executive officer Alice Rackley said: “Through cutting-edge technology and end-to-end packaging solutions, this project has delivered on what consumers have been asking for. A nationwide, scalable, and viable solution to the recycling crisis that keeps convenience and efficiency in mind.

“Today’s outcome is the result of years of public consultation, technological innovation, and stringent testing working to feed the appetite of consumers for retailers to offer real incentives for recycling.”

Customer support for DDRS in the UK

Surveys conducted by Ocado Retail and Bower among their customers upon completion of the trial reveal support for the concept of a DDRS in the UK.

Specifically, 93% of pilot users expressed a positive attitude on the initiative, while 71% of Ocado Retail’s customers indicated a willingness to use QR codes to claim their deposits. In comparison, only 58% of respondents expressed interest in using a reverse vending machine (RVM).

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.

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