RESULTS from Wales’ first Kerbside Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) pilot, which ran in Conwy, North Wales, over the summer, have shown consumers to be highly engaged, with 97% of registered households returning at least one bottle over four weeks.

The joint initiative between technology supplier Polytag, the Welsh Government, Conwy Council, Ecosurety and Wrap Cymru, is one of the first DRS trials to run in the UK. Negating the need to return containers in person, the kerbside DRS pilot saw households receive six uniquely tagged bottles over a four-week period (covering June and July 2021) of which 97% of households scanned at least one bottle and returned them in their normal recycling bins.

High engagement rate shows households are onboard

During the pilot, residents in Colwyn Heights were asked to scan the bottles when placing them in their kerbside recycling containers, using a free app. The bottles were scanned again upon collection by Conwy County Borough Council’s household waste recycling team.

For each bottle scanned, householders received a digital token, each worth 20p. Over four weeks, nine in 10 (90%) registered households scanned four or more bottles, with 193 (73%) scanning all six.

A convenient way to reduce litter and increase recycling

The Conwy pilot leveraged Wales-based start-up Polytag’s digital DRS ‘tag and trace’ technology. The innovative recycling platform enables brands to describe their packaging, then to ‘tag’ their packaging at the point of manufacture, then, with the help of consumers, ‘trace’ it, so it can be isolated from the existing recycling waste stream and reprocessed in an optimal way to retain high value plastics and minimise downcycling. All consumers are required to do is scan a small QR-type code on a product’s packaging.

Consumers have become extremely familiar with the process of scanning QR codes over the last year, meaning the process was deemed to be very easy to follow. One resident said: “I found the whole process really easy from start to finish. The instructions were clear, the app was easy to find and download, and once installed really easy to use.”

Digital trumps conventional DRS

Traditional Deposit Return Schemes (DRSs) are commonly based on a return-to-retailer model, with extensive use of reverse vending machines and separate DRS counting centres managing the flow of material from the consumer to the recycling plant. However, Defra estimates a deployment cost of more than £6bn over 11 years in the UK, while they are also viewed as being inconvenient for users and retailers. Plus, DRSs are typically carbon intensive as they rely on households driving to a reverse vending machine and the manufacture and installation of the machines carries a large carbon footprint.

A kerbside DRS is more convenient for households because they leverage the existing council kerb-side recycling processes, which increases engagement, as demonstrated by the Conwy pilot. They can also complement reverse vending machine DRS by offering households greater choice and flexibility in terms of how and when they recycle.

And kerbside DRSs are more environmentally friendly too, helping Wales to deliver on its Zero Waste targets while also cutting carbon emissions through a closed-loop packaging economy. Using data from a report published by the Irish Waste Management Association, which compared carbon emissions associated with conventional DRS to those likely to result from a kerbside (digital) DRS, it is estimated that in Wales, the net benefit in terms of carbon emissions derived from adopting kerbside DRS would be approximately 13,000 tCO2e per annum – the equivalent to burning 6,500t of coal each year.

Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said: “This has been a really encouraging pilot project that we will learn from as we work towards rooting out waste and reusing as much as we can as part of our efforts to tackle climate change. Digital Deposit Return Schemes, like this one deployed in Colwyn Heights, help Local Authorities, brands and regulators to monitor recycling rates, so they can better understand the habits of households. By using these new technologies we are one step closer to creating a truly circular economy.”

Phil Sutton, Founder of Polytag, added: “Across the UK, consumers go through an estimated 14bn plastic drinks bottles, 9bn drinks cans and 5bn[1] glass bottles a year. A huge amount of that packaging waste is not recycled because it is not disposed of properly. We created Polytag to provide a simple way to help change consumer behaviour and encourage higher levels of drinks container recycling.

“As we move closer to implementing a nationwide DRS, it is vital that we work together to find the most convenient way for consumers to recycle containers. We firmly believe that kerbside-based collections are the most effective way to achieve real change. This has now been proven in two trials, the latest in Conwy, where engagement was 97%, and in Greasby on the Wirral where we saw 91% of tagged packaging successfully recycled.

“We are hugely grateful to Conwy County Borough Council for their invaluable support throughout the pilot. The team has been instrumental in getting this initiative off the ground and it couldn’t have been delivered without their buy-in and commitment.

“This is echoed by the enthusiasm shown by the Welsh Government towards this recent pilot which further demonstrates how committed the country is to deliver a successful DRS – it’s no surprise that Wales is the third best in the world for recycling. We hope that their approach is followed by the other devolved nations and the UK government, as they consider the next steps in deploying the scheme.”

Consultation on the Introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is now closed, with the results expected to be announced later this year.

To download the report, visit the website: https://www.polytag.co.uk/conwy-pilot/