DRS: Ireland's green revolution goes live

GS1 UK CEO Anne Godfrey shares our thoughts on why the launch of Ireland's first national deposit return scheme presents a valuable opportunity to learn and refine plans for the UK.

Ireland DRS

Today, Ireland rolled out the country’s first national deposit return scheme, joining a global success story that has revolutionised recycling in more than forty regions worldwide.

Ireland has launched ahead of its neighbours, with businesses across the UK still suffering from confusion and repeated delays to the proposed schemes for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

GS1 UK has consistently been calling on the governments of the four nations to collaborate with industry to deliver an approach that that creates clarity and consistency for all, so we have been following the implementation of the Irish Scheme with great interest. 

Dealing with legislative changes that are implemented differently in one country before another creates new challenges and barriers for business and already, we are seeing independent breweries and soft drinks manufacturers consider pulling sales from the Republic. 

The added costs and complexities associated with adding new, jurisdiction specific, barcodes and labelling and increased administration is proving too much for some small producers. This is why we must ensure any schemes introduced in the UK are as closely aligned as possible, wherever possible.

If there is a failure to deliver a consistent approach across the UK, we risk hampering cross-border trade, limiting consumer choice and creating unnecessary barriers for smaller brands, many of whom are already struggling with rising costs and supply chain disruptions. We also risk passing costs on to consumers whilst failing to deliver the simplicity, convenience and ease-of-use needed to drive participation.

Anne Godfrey

Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK

Our own research has shown that over a third of consumers already find recycling too complicated and without a harmonised, four nations approach, DRS implementation will only make matters worse. We must ensure that we avoid creating a DRS postcode lottery, one in which where you live, or trade, will determine the extent to which you are able to take part.

There is clear evidence to show that a well-designed and effective DRS would have a major impact on packaging waste. In those countries where DRS is already in place, we’ve seen recycling rates vastly improve with collection rates close to 100 per cent in some cases, such as in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Finland to name but a few.

Research released by Amárach last week revealed that 95 per cent of Irish consumers plan to engage with the country’s scheme and 82 per cent support its introduction. Similarly, in the UK, over two thirds of the consumers we surveyed said they would be more likely to return packaging if it meant they could reclaim a deposit. This highlights the size of the opportunity should stakeholders prioritise putting convenience and simplicity at the forefront. 

Solutions, powered by GS1 standards, that but the consumer experience at the fore are already available, as demonstrated by the highly successful pilot schemes from pioneering GreenTech organisations such as Polytag and re-universe. 

These initiatives have proven that the next generation of on-pack labelling - QR codes powered by GS1 – can provide consumers with an accessible way to redeem deposits or claim rewards while also helping manufacturers and retailers to uniquely identify, track and trace packaging as it travels through the supply chain delivering full cycle visibility. 

We have the opportunity to learn from the successful schemes and pilots already in place and ensure we make use of the data and technology currently powering effective schemes. 

At GS1 UK, we’re committed to providing insight on, and support the delivery of a robust and efficient DRS for the UK. Of the retailers, producers and wholesalers affected 90 percent are already our members, and use our interoperable standards to identify, capture and share data about their products. 

That is why we continue to call for all UK schemes to be underpinned by a common identification system and data model. If universally adopted across the UK, such a system would be agile enough to integrate with whatever technologies may be used, whatever packaging materials are included and whatever scheme administrators are appointed.

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Opinion piece

Insight report

A critical juncture for deposit return schemes in the UK

Find out how we are working with both industry and government to support the development of harmonised, flexible and future-proofed approach that works for all.

A critical juncture for deposit return schemes in the UK