Comment: Time for DRS to go digital?

Joseph Doherty is managing director of waste and resource recovery firm Re-Gen.

Joseph Doherty of Re-Gen considers the role that might be played by a digital deposit return scheme.

The forthcoming regulations for a UK deposit return scheme (DRS) need to include provision for digital solutions. A digital DRS provides householders with the ability to use their smart phone to scan the codes on their drink containers to an app. They will receive credits which can be redeemed as part of the system. It simplifies the collection, return and refund process.

The householder is central to every decision regarding collections, recycling rates, and addressing ‘wishcycling’ which has also been in the newspaper headlines recently. The best solution is to put the householder front and centre and provide a collection system that is simple and convenient.

The introduction of a digital deposit return is state of the art. Putting the householder at the centre of recycling, digital DRS provides them with control while being carbon efficient as the collection is still made from their house. It would also address potential fraud in the system.

A digital DRS would provide real-time data management and that is something that the UK recycling industry would welcome. Data is essential for recycling companies, producers of drinks containers, and policy makers in government.

At June’s Environmental Packaging Conference, Alice Rackley, from Polytag, outlined why her company felt this fast-developing area of innovation should not be locked out of the DRS regulations because Defra doesn’t have the vision to see its benefits.

Re-Gen fully supports innovations like a digital deposit return scheme where investment in technological solutions continues to make recycling easy for the householder and leaves the heavy lifting to the technology.

The Patamera digital system in Norway is user friendly and has seen a high level of participation by householders. Recycling relies on behaviour change and consumer habits and trends could be monitored more easily through a national digital system.

Properly planned and introduced, digital DRS could also reduce the costs around collection, sorting and processing. Communicating with householders would be another benefit through the app. Some local authorities in Northern Ireland already use apps with reminders on recycling collection days. Digital technology provides numerous opportunities to promote recycling, the circular economy, and to inform and educate our citizens.

Re-Gen has been trialling visual recognition systems, such as Greyparrot and Recycleye, finding out how they can optimise existing processes, and how they can provide rich data to inform future developments, and provide robust evidence to scheme administrators and Government.

The UK’s recycling industry can’t let the opportunities of tomorrow be wasted because those in charge of drafting the legislation lack vision and have no insight into where the sector is developing right now.