Recycling technology company Polytag, label manufacturer Interket and the UK’s leading coding and marking specialist, Xact, have teamed up to enable Ocado Retail to deliver a first-of-its-kind Digital Deposit Return Scheme (DDRS) pilot in the UK.
The trial will test the feasibility of a key component of a DDRS - the application of ‘unique-every-time’ QR codes to packaging. Xact and Interket will apply Polytag’s innovative codes to Ocado Retail’s fully recyclable two-pint and four-pint milk bottles, made up of at least 30% recycled material, over the course of the next 12 weeks.
Until now, it has only been possible to print ‘unique-every-time’ QR codes using digital label printing, at significantly reduced speeds and far higher costs. This new process, developed by Xact and Polytag, means that brands and retailers can continue to use standard plate printing label techniques and simply digitise a 16mm x 16mm white space on the label using a proprietary connection to the Polytag solution.
Polytag’s ‘unique-every-time’ QR codes will be printed onto Interket’s innovative Ecoket labels, which are manufactured from a minimum of 30% post-consumer recyclate (PCR), making them the perfect choice for a pilot aimed at increasing recycling rates in the country.
Digital Deposit Return Schemes in the spotlight
English, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are expected to announce the response to the DRS consultation in the coming months. There is increasing pressure on the devolved administrations to consider a complementary digital solution – particularly following widespread criticism of the Scottish reverse vending machine-based DRS rollout.
A DDRS will enable households to scan their discarded packaging from home before recycling it, and crucially, redeem their deposit through an intuitive mobile app, when legislation is finally enforced.
Upon scanning the QR codes, consumers will also receive instructions and a clear call-to-action for shoppers, further simplifying the recycling process.
A recent report from the independent environmental consultancy, Resource Futures, estimated that an all-in DDRS would result in cost savings of £3.4bn over an 11 year period, compared to the RVM model, largely thanks to eliminating the need for the nationwide installation of reverse vending machines. A digital scheme is also likely to be less carbon-intensive, mainly due to not installing RVMs across the country and negating the need to drive to collection points.
Polytag’s QR code and app-based mobile phone technology is also built to meet GS1 standards, following its approval by GS1 UK earlier this year. This means recyclable goods can be tracked and traced through the circular economy, providing stakeholders with never-before-seen packaging lifecycle information, and opportunities to collaborate easily through the use of global, interoperable data standards.
The unique-every-time QR code also opens up a marketing opportunity for brands. The QR code is scanned by the native camera and customers are taken to a webpage. The content of the landing pages and surveys was developed in workshops between the aforementioned stakeholders, and WRAP, RECOUP, Behaviour Change, British Retail Consortium and OPRL.
Commenting on the trial, Alice Rackley, CEO, Polytag, said: “This world-first trial has game-changing implications for recycling in this country. A successful trial, supported by 'the world's largest online-only supermarket Ocado Retail, will be a significant step towards the implementation of a DDRS in this country that will provide a much more convenient and environmentally friendly way for households to recover their deposits. Not only that, brands will be presented with radical new marketing tools and a wealth of data on how consumers are recycling their products.”
David Acott, Operations Director (UK), Interket (UK), continued: “We are delighted that one of our Ecoket range of materials is being used in this ground-breaking trial with exciting implications for the industry. It has been great to work with Polytag’s retrofitted technology. It feels like the start of something very special and opens up amazing new opportunities for the label market, brands and retailers.”
Chris Jolly, Director at Xact, added: “It’s fantastic to be involved in such a pioneering and creative project. Xact has over 40 years’ industry experience, and we are proud that our GS1 compliant coding, traceability and software solutions are helping to enable this ground-breaking and ethical process. We have partnered with Polytag on this project since its infancy in 2017 and remain excited for the future and the endless possibilities that could change the face of recycling.”
Kerry Morrison, Head of Retail at GS1UK, added: “We have a limited window of opportunity to help industry solve the DDRS conundrum so are eager to see the results of this pioneering new trial. By serialising QR codes powered by GS1 Digital Link, Ocado Retail and Polytag will be able to uniquely identify, track and trace all 1.6 million bottles as they move through the supply chain. This will remove the potential for fraud and allow trusted data on the processes behind such a scheme, and how consumers engage with them, to be captured and shared between stakeholders. GS1 Digital Link can also play a vital role in helping consumers participate and adapt by instantly connecting them to clear, easy to follow instructions with just a simple smartphone scan.
Laura Fernandez, Senior Packaging and Sustainability Manager at Ocado Retail Ltd, said: “As the world's largest online supermarket, we champion the use of innovative technology as we strive to become the UK's most sustainable grocery retailer. Polytag’s digital platform offers plenty of environmental and economic benefits for retailers and customers alike - it's easy to use and when used at scale, could have a hugely positive impact on the nation's deposit return scheme. We’re looking forward to seeing how our customers respond to the trial and how many would redeem their deposit at home.”
Polytag has also developed a UV tagging technology. UV tag readers, implemented in Material Recycling Facilities, identify items with UV tags applied to the packaging and / or to labels. This solution provides brands with never-seen-before data on packaging recycling updated in real-time to their account dashboard. This has recently undergone successful trials at Abergele’s Gofer Bulking Centre in North Wales.