Ocado’s ‘game-changing’ digital deposit scheme shows potential as three-month pilot comes to an end

Ocado Retail and Polytag’s collaborative digital deposit scheme has resulted in 21,000 rewards being claimed during the 55-day pilot.
October 26, 2023

World-first pilot scheme comes to a close

Back in July, we reported how, in a world-first, UK retailer Ocado was launching a nationwide digital deposit return scheme (DDRS). During the 12-week pilot, Ocado partnered with recycling technology provider Polytag to label Ocado milk bottles with unique-every-time QR codes, enabling households to scan the milk containers with their smartphones to receive detailed recycling information. Further, the scheme provided customers with a 20p ($0.24 USD) cash-back reward on recycled containers via an app created by Bower.

Summarising the results of the pilot scheme, Ocado reports 21,000 bottles were scanned by consumers through their smartphones before being placed in their home kerbside recycling, totalling reward claims of up to £4,000 ($4848.21 USD)[i].

The trial of DDRS comes ahead of a proposed nationwide levy on recyclable drinks containers in the UK, expected to be around 20p and likely to come into force in 2025, having been delayed for several years[ii]. The UK government hopes that the new DDRS scheme will lead to a reduction of as much as 85% fewer drink containers being discarded as litter within three years of the 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% of the rubbish found on the streets, according to Keep Britain Tidy[iii]

According to The Grocer, Polytag CEO Alice Rackley has said that the trial was “the closest you will get to proving digital DRS on a national scale is possible. The fact that this used normal production processes is hugely significant”. She added,

“Whilst milk is not in scope [under current government proposals], the fact is it’s a high-volume, frequently shopped product. The trial also shows that a 20p deposit was enough to see 21,000 deposits in 55 days, or 350 people a day coming forward to claim deposits”.[iv]

To further test the demand for DDRS, Polytag is now embarking on a similar trial with the Co-op across its water bottles.

Ocado results follow similar success in Brecon, Wales

With the 2025 levy on recyclable drinks containers looming, there is discussion on how recycling uptake can be driven using deposit schemes, at the core of this is how consumers can return their containers. The traditional format for deposit return schemes has been via reverse vending machines (RVM). However, retailers have said that this format is too expensive to run, it also relies on consumers bringing their empty containers into stores. DDRS studies are increasingly providing evidence which suggests consumers are more willing to utilise kerbside recycling than in-store. For example, 71% of Ocado Retail’s customers indicated a willingness to use QR codes to claim their deposits, yet only 58% of respondents expressed interest in using a reverse vending machine (RVM)[v].

The results from Ocado and Polytag’s trial come just weeks after a similar DDRS pilot held in Brecon, Wales, where residents were able to claim 10p ($0.12 USD) for every specially marked bottle they recycled. This was also done by scanning the product with an app. However, consumers could then choose to either put the containers in bins at home or utilise mini-RVMs installed at retail locations such as supermarkets.

Funded by suppliers Danone and Nestlé, the project also involves supermarkets Aldi, Co-op and Morrisons. Leading the project was Circularity Solutions, and the company’s founder Duncan Midwood told The Grocer that the results showed an “overwhelming majority” of consumers chose to return their drink containers at home, suggesting that plans for RVMs should be reconsidered[vi]. Midwood said:

“There had been concerns about the compliance issue – basically whether consumers would do what they say they do after scanning the item – but we have inspected 400 bins and analysed the contents, and the compliance is between 90%-95%, suggesting people do.”[vii]

Whilst uptake has been lower than expected- 1,300 people have taken part so far, out of 4,300 households in the town- the data collected so far is richer than had been hoped for, with key insights having been obtained into how a DDRS system could work.

Midwood did urge some caution, however, given the sample size, and the scale of the study:

“Of course this is Brecon, and the question is would something like this work as well in the middle of Manchester.” He added: “the key thing is it suggests people support a digital system. Of course, this is without any of the mass publicity that would be in place were this a national launch.”[viii]

It is worth noting that, unlike Ocado and Polytag’s pilot scheme, the Brecon trial saw labels being placed manually on thousands of products, something which realistically is not viable at scale. Polytag CEO Alice Rackley has previously said that it was “paramount” that a digital solution “avoids unnecessary costs, carbon emissions and the inconvenience of traditional RVMs”.


[i] Over 20,000 Cash Rewards Redeemed in Ocado's Digital Deposit Return Scheme Pilot (edie.net)

[ii] Ocado shoppers could get cash back to scan recycling under delayed deposit return scheme (telegraph.co.uk)

[iii] www.keepbritaintidy.org

[iv] First ‘national’ digital deposit trial sees 21,000 rewards claimed in 55 days | News | The Grocer

[v] Over 20,000 Cash Rewards Redeemed in Ocado's Digital Deposit Return Scheme Pilot (edie.net)

[vi] DRS: trial shows people prefer recycling at home over ‘outdated’ vending machines | News | The Grocer

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid

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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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