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What you need to know about Digital Deposit Return Systems

As of May 2024, 56 deposit return systems (DRS) are operational worldwide, serving over 346 million people. With jurisdictions such as Austria, Poland, Turkey, Uruguay, and Singapore expected to implement new systems in the next few years, the adoption of this policy tool shows no signs of slowing down. Amidst this global surge in deposit return legislation, some stakeholders have turned their attention to a unique variant known as digital DRS (DDRS), also called serialised DRS.

Unlike classic DRS, where consumers pay a deposit upfront and return empty containers to designated locations for refunds, DDRS utilises smartphone apps for scanning empty containers, which are then placed into existing kerbside recycling bins. Aside from the key difference in return pathways, the concept of DDRS relies on the use of serialised unique barcodes or QR codes to identify each container within the system.

While there is some interest in implementing DDRS by certain stakeholder groups, it’s important for policymakers to understand the differences between classic DRS and initiatives primarily focused on rewards or incentives for demonstration purposes. It’s also crucial to recognise that the complexity of a classic DRS extends beyond a simple rewards-based system and requires extensive, intricate, and sophisticated infrastructure to effectively manage substantial financial transactions (that is, large amounts of money) across the system in an equitable manner. Although many producers may be willing to finance small-scale, one-off pilot projects involving small cash rewards or other incentives, they may be reluctant to assume broader environmental and social responsibilities when faced with the prospect of funding a large-scale DRS.

Our latest fact sheet

Digital deposit return systems: What you need to know (2024)” – the third in our DDRS fact sheet series – is designed to be a valuable resource for policymakers, industry stakeholders, and anyone interested in the evolving landscape of digital (serialised) deposit systems. In addition to presenting the latest developments in DDRS research, the fact sheet provides a summary of DDRS trials that have been conducted including a comparative analysis.

Classic DRS and DDRS: What’s the difference?

Classic Deposit Return System (DRS)

DDRS and Rewards-based Alternatives

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