What is Digital Deposit Return System and can it fully replace the traditional DRS model in the future?

As most of the sectors of this world are going through digitalization nowadays, Deposit Refund Schemes are not an exception. A classical model that was first implemented in Europe by Swedes in 1984 may still be reliable and fully functioning even today, almost 40 years later, however it is in the nature of humans to innovate and make things simpler. A new model called Digital Deposit Return System also known as DDRS is still not standardized and firmly defined. Some of the experts and people from the sector mean only the use of digital wallets under this term, other professionals go deeper and see a DDRS as a model, where consumers are not forced to bring the packaging back to the retailers, but use digital tools at home to help them scan the barcode on the container that can be later thrown to the kerbside collection or into a smart bin.

EAN code and symbol for deposit bottle in Slovakia.
Picture is shown for illustration purpose only

When talking about the DDRS only in terms of the introduction of digital wallets, those who are in favor of this solution argue mostly with avoiding frauds, higher motivation of the younger generation, as well as simplification of the process, when the deposit voucher needs to be redeemed at the cashier’s office. On the other hand, people skeptical of the digital wallets within the deposit return system claim that this could be a problem because of the older consumers without smartphones.

A trial of DRS integrating digital wallets and micropayments was launched in Glasgow and West Central Scotland. As described by scottishgrocer.co.uk consumers were returning single-use PET bottles with a size up to 750ml to retailers who participated in the trial. Also, thanks to the cooperation with credit card company Mastercard and payment app developer Helpful – a deposit of 20p was paid to the consumer account via smartphone app in exchange for the beverage packaging.

Barcodes of plastic bottles which can be returned.
Picture is shown for illustration purpose only

However, as Alex Henriksen, managing director at Tetra Pak North Europe, said for packagingeurope.com the most straightforward and user-friendly DRS is one allowing consumers to engage with the scheme from home. To simplify the idea: in this DDRS approach, a consumer would scan the barcode on the bottle at home and digitally redeem the containers’ deposits without the need to go out of the house, going on with the use of already existing household waste collection infrastructure.

Supporters of this system claim that this would decrease the traveling of consumers in cars and buses on the way to reverse vending machines at the stores. Furthermore, the DDRS should be less vulnerable to fraud, and the high expenses for Return Vending Machines (£15,000-£100,000 cost per RVM according to thegrocer.co.uk) can be saved from the side of the smaller retailers. Another advantage of this approach is that it allows flexibility in terms of the deposit height, which is significant for cross-border issues, as well as pack sizes.

Next years and mostly the decisions in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland about the form and model of DRS may be crucial in the answer, if the current traditional model for DRS is already outdated or if the insecurities and risks of the DDRS are still prevailing over its potential benefits.