The deposit return scheme on drinks: what should retailers get ready for?

Regulations for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks cans and bottles have been published in the Scottish Parliament this year, expected to become a law in 2020, and go live in 2021. Following this, DRS will likely be enforced in England and Northern Ireland in 2023. 

Although it isn’t imminent, there’re a few reasons that retailers should commit to the scheme before it’s in place, namely, to get ready for it, further sustainability efforts, and respond to consumer concerns.

Shoppers want the DRS and consider it to be the right thing to have. Using a Vykert steer we asked 500 consumers in England and Northern Ireland, how appealing it was to them. The results below are on a scale from -7 to +7, where -7 represents a highly negative and +7 – a highly positive attitude:

Our results confirm a strong support to the scheme, with a median response of +6, the maximum being +7.

A few retailers have already trialled a bottle return facility in the UK, among them MorrisonsTesco, Sainsbury’sCo-op and Iceland, all using reverse vending machines (RVM) for return of plastic bottles. It’s expected that RVM will play a crucial role in the implementation of the scheme as it is relatively convenient for both retailers and consumers. 

We asked 541 consumers in England and Northern Ireland which method they would opt for in order to get a refund on their empty bottles. Using a preference steer allowed us to look into exclusive preferences, i.e. the consistent choices, made every time the preferred option is presented:

Out of all responses, 406 were exclusive preferences, which suggests that 75% of consumers had a strong opinion on the matter. 42% of the votes went to cash at RVM and 27% to digital rewards at RVM, making up nearly 69% of consumers willing to use RVM, as opposed to under 28% preferring to use the checkout. This data suggests retailers should look closely at installing RVMs in their outlets.

There are, however, worries around safety and convenience in the use of RVM for glass bottles as glass is heavy and breakable. While it’s not yet known whether a DRS would include all kinds of drinks packaging, it is likely to cover all three major container materials – plastic, aluminium, and glass. There are two reasons for making this assumption – Scotland has already decided to go down that road, and, again, it is what consumers want.

Using a multi-answer steer we asked consumers from England and Northern Ireland which types of drinks containers the DRS should cover, if any. The steer allows consumers to choose multiple options from a list, or reject all options:

Glass and plastic came out as top choices, with more than two thirds of consumers thinking each should be included. Aluminium is not as favoured a candidate, with around half of consumers selecting it.

Regulations such as the DRS could certainly be challenging for retailers to comply with. Vypr can help verify that a strategy has the right priorities, before the structure of the scheme has been agreed. A streamlined effort will help retailers to get ready on time. Balancing the important factors, e.g. industry calls to “keep it simple” with environmental and social concerns, can be informed by Vypr’s consumer community in a fast and reliable manner.