Alupro, the not-for-profit organisation representing the UK’s aluminium packaging industry, has said it does not support a digital DRS (DDRS).
A DDRS is an alternative deposit return scheme (DRS) model where instead of containers being taken to return points by consumers, deposits are redeemed by scanning QR codes printed on containers which can be recycled through existing systems, such as kerbside collections.
Alupro says aluminium cans are typically contaminated with undesirable materials like plastic when sourced from UK kerbside co-mingled collection systems. This means they require additional sorting to remove these “non-target” elements, which Alupro says adds costs and waste to the recycling process that could be avoided if the cans were collected through a conventional DRS.
This is why Alupro says the industry is opposed to a DDRS proposal. The aluminium industry has an ambition to recycle 100% of aluminium cans by 2030. Alupro says a well-designed DRS, such as the schemes in Finland and Denmark that are based on a “return-to-retail” structure and return vending machines (RVMs), is a “key instrument” to achieve this target.
Alupro says the studies and trials exploring DDRS’ highlight the potential “theoretical benefits” of such a system, but claims they have yet to be demonstrated at scale and haven’t shown the requirements placed on the packaging value chain by a DDRS are “feasible or sensible”.
A DDRS cannot be facilitated by the aluminium beverage packaging and supply chain, Alupro says. The industry-funded non-profit also contends that a DDRS is not as effective as a conventional DRS as a measure that improves packaging sustainability and recycling rates.
Alupro has highlighted several feasibility and operational challenges it sees with any potential DDRS. It claims a new funding model will need to be developed as containers will be mixed with other packaging, no trial has demonstrated how to manage the simultaneous activation of between 4 and 24 individual deposits at the point of sale, and the printing of unique codes on containers at rapid line production speeds is not feasible.
In terms of sustainability challenges, Alupro says a DDRS doesn’t guarantee improvements in the quality of collected drinks cans, doesn’t guarantee containers which have had their deposit redeemed will be recycled, and it’s unclear whether a DDRS offers “significant” carbon efficiency compared to a conventional DRS.
Last year (2022), Recycling technology company Polytag and Ocado Retail announced a “world-first” trial to test the viability of a DDRS in the UK. CEO of Polytag, Alice Rackley has previously argued that policy decisions on DDRS don’t reflect the technological possibilities available today.