Resource Use

Welsh kerbside DRS pilot sees 97 per cent engagement rate

The first Kerbside Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) pilot in Wales has revealed its results, which show that at least 97 per cent of registered households returned at least one bottle over the four-week trial.

Taking place over the summer in Conwy, the initiative was a collaboration between the Welsh Government, Conwy Council, Ecosurety, WRAP Cymru, and technology supplier Polytag. Participating residents were presented with six uniquely tagged bottles and asked to use a free application in order to scan the bottles when placing them in their usual kerbside recycling containers; these were then scanned again upon collection. For every scanned bottle, residents received a digital token worth 20 pence. Over the space of the scheme, 90 per cent of registered households scanned four or more bottles, with 73 per cent scanning all six.

Polytag DRSThe scheme piloted Polytag’s digital DRS ‘tag and trace’ technology. The platform enables brands to ‘tag’ their packaging at the point of manufacture, before being ‘traced’ by the consumer once scanned. Polytag states that this ensures that tagged packaging can be isolated from the existing recycling waste stream and reprocessed in a manner that ensures the retention of ‘high-value’ plastics and the minimisation of downcycling.

Comparisons to traditional DRS

A traditional DRS is generally built upon a return-to-retailer model, which often implements infrastructure such as reverse vending machines and counting centres in order to manage the flow of material from consumer to recycling plant. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates that the deployment of such a framework could accrue a cost of over £6 billion across the next 11 years, with some stating that, beyond its costliness, the system could present inconveniences to both user and retailer. Critics also point to the potential carbon intensity of traditional DRS, as the manufacture and installation of the infrastructure can carry a substantial footprint, with many households having to drive in order to access collection centres.

Polytag states that kerbside DRS has the potential to be more convenient for households than traditional DRS as it leverages existing council collection and recycling processes. The technology company also states that the kerbside system can complement reverse vending machine DRS by offering households ‘greater choice and flexibility in terms of how and when they recycle.’

Polytag goes on to assert that kerbside DRS can facilitate Wales in meeting its Zero Waste targets by implementing a closed-loop packaging economy that is low in carbon emissions. The net benefit in terms of the carbon emission reduction derived from adopting kerbside DRS would equate to approximately 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, according to Polytag, using data from a report published by the Irish Waste Management Association which compared emissions between conventional and kerbside DRS schemes.

The technology company also states that digital scanning within DRS allows brands to draw extensive data pertaining to the rates of packaging recycling. This could result in retailers bolstering their sustainability messages, as well as helping companies to accurately identify the plastic tax they are required to pay, according to Polytag.

In the wake of the trial 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.

Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, commented: “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.”

Alice Rackley, CEO of Polytag, said: “Across the UK, consumers go through an estimated 14bn plastic drinks bottles, 9bn drinks cans and 5bn glass bottles a year, according to Defra. 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 recycling for drinks containers.

“As we move closer to implementing a nationwide DRS, it is vital that brands, retailers, government and technology suppliers 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 whilst delivering significant benefits to brands. This has now been proven in two trials, the latest in Conwy, where engagement was 97 per cent, and in Greasby on the Wirral where we saw 91 per cent 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.”