As online retailer Ocado pilots digital deposit schemes, why are these being heralded as a ‘game-changer’ in driving recycling?

In a world first, Ocado has launched its new nationwide deposit scheme, which it hopes will incentivise the recycling of single-use plastics by offering a financial reward to consumers for disposing of packaging in an environmentally conscious way.
August 2, 2023

Source: The Grocer

Ocado’s nationwide trial a ‘world first’

UK retailer Ocado has launched a new digital deposit return scheme (DDRS), which, in a world first, will be conducted nationwide within the UK. For the venture, Ocado is partnering with recycling technology provider Polytag during the 12-week scheme, where an estimated 1.6 million Ocado milk bottles will be adorned with unique-every-time QR codes. This will enable households to scan the milk containers with their smartphones to receive detailed recycling information. “These unique-every-time QR codes prove that a digital deposit return scheme is viable.”[i]

They will also allow customers a 20p cash-back reward on recycled containers. This comes in response to a proposed nationwide levy on recyclable drinks containers, expected to be around 20p and likely to come into force in 2025[ii], having been delayed for several years. The thought is that with small cash deposits placed on single-use drinks containers, consumers will be more likely to recycle their drinks bottles and cans, reducing litter and plastic pollution.

The UK government hopes that the new DRS scheme will lead to a reduction of as much as 85% fewer drinks containers being discarded as litter within three years of launch. Tackling this plastic waste is a critical issue in the UK, where an estimated 16 million plastic bottles are littered every day, and drinks containers make up 75 per cent of the rubbish found on the streets, according to Keep Britain Tidy[iii]. 

The government states in its latest proposals that the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will include the roll-out of special machines, known as reverse vending machines, alongside designated sites where people can return their bottles and receive their cash back. However, in most cases, it will be retailers who host the return points[iv]. It is, however, worth noting that a flagship reverse vending machine scheme in Scotland recently collapsed, and other such schemes in the UK have faced delays[v].

Could DDRS present a more efficient alternative to DRS?

Further benefits of the digital Ocado scheme are that it makes use of existing recycling channels, hopefully enabling a more efficient and streamlined roll-out when compared with DRS. In partnership with an associated app, the QR code on the packaging will allow end-to-end tracking of product packaging as it goes to be recycled via curbside recycling. Ocado’s new trial scheme is an important milestone as it will be used to show whether DDRS is a viable option at scale moving forwards. Alice Rackley, CEO, Polytag, has said:

“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, but brands will also be presented with radical new marketing tools and a wealth of data on how consumers are recycling their products.”[vi]

Ocado customers at least seem keen to utilise, where Laura Fernandez, Senior Packaging and Sustainability Manager at Ocado Retail, told that: “To be able to launch a workable DDRS that actually pays consumers back for recycling is a game-changing move for recycling and the circular economy in the UK. We already know that Ocado shoppers have an appetite for such a scheme as when we surveyed them last year, 80% were likely or very likely to scan a QR code for a deposit return.”[vii]

Source: Polytag



[i] Ocado Digital Deposit Return Scheme Pilot | Polytag

[ii] Ocado shoppers could get cash back to scan recycling under delayed deposit return scheme (

[iii] Home | Keep Britain Tidy

[iv] Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers moves a step closer - GOV.UK (

[v] Ocado launches first nationwide financial reward for deposit return scheme | News | The Grocer

[vi] Ocado Digital Deposit Return Scheme Pilot | Polytag

[vii] Earn 20p Rewards by Recycling Milk Packaging with Ocado (

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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