Unlocking the Future of Aluminum Can Recycling: Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Deposit Return Schemes

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The realm of recycling is evolving, with innovative solutions like Digital Deposit Return Schemes (DDRS) emerging as alternatives to traditional methods. In the UK, the recycling of aluminum cans, a lightweight and highly versatile material, is at a crossroads. The industry, driven by entities like Alupro, has set an ambitious target: to recycle 100% of aluminum cans by 2030. This article delves into the intricacies of DDRS, its implications for the aluminum industry, and the journey toward more sustainable recycling practices.

The Aluminum Industry’s Stance on DDRS

Alupro, representing the aluminum industry, voices concerns over the feasibility and efficiency of DDRS. In the conventional Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), consumers return containers to specific points, aiding in quality control. However, DDRS relies on QR codes and kerbside collections, often leading to contamination with materials like plastic. This, Alupro argues, increases costs and waste, diverting us from the 2030 recycling goal. Successful models in Finland and Denmark, based on “return-to-retail” structures, highlight the effectiveness of traditional DRS in achieving high recycling rates and maintaining material quality.

Challenges of Implementing DDRS

DDRS presents a myriad of challenges, from operational to sustainability concerns. The mixing of containers with other packaging necessitates a new funding model, and the rapid printing of unique codes on production lines raises feasibility questions. Moreover, DDRS does not guarantee the quality of collected cans or ensure that redeemed containers are recycled, leaving significant room for improvement in terms of carbon efficiency and sustainability.

Case Study: Polytag and Ocado Retail DDRS Trial

In 2022, Polytag and Ocado Retail embarked on a groundbreaking trial to test DDRS in the UK. Alice Rackley, CEO of Polytag, highlighted the disparity between policy decisions and the technological capabilities available, suggesting that innovation could address the challenges posed by DDRS. This trial represents a crucial step in understanding DDRS’s practical implications and its potential role in the future of aluminum can recycling.

The Road Ahead: Optimizing Aluminum Can Recycling

As we navigate the complexities of DDRS, the potential for technology to revolutionize aluminum can recycling is clear. The industry must prioritize improving the quality of recycled cans, developing effective sorting mechanisms, and fostering collaboration across stakeholders. Policy support and industry alignment are vital in steering us toward more sustainable, efficient recycling practices, aligning with the global push for environmental stewardship.


The journey toward 100% recycling of aluminum cans by 2030 is fraught with challenges, yet it represents a crucial step in sustainable material management. DDRS, while innovative, requires careful consideration and optimization to truly benefit the aluminum industry. By embracing technology, enhancing quality control, and fostering industry collaboration, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future, ensuring that the aluminum industry plays its part in the global sustainability movement.Engage with this comprehensive guide to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by Digital Deposit Return Schemes in aluminum can recycling, and discover the industry’s path toward achieving its ambitious recycling goals.

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