Co-op and Polytag use tech to track recycled water bottles

QR codes and UV tags on the retailer’s own-brand PET spring water will provide rich and real-time data on the lifecycle of plastic packaging. 

Retailer Co-op has partnered with Welsh software company Polytag to track individual bottles as they pass through the Gofer Bulking Centre in Abergale, which is operated on behalf of Conwy County Borough Council.

clear plastic bottle

Co-op’s bottled water supplier will simply apply an ultraviolet (UV) tag to labels on two-litre bottles of the retailer’s PET spring water. What’s more, because this is done as part of the supplier’s normal labelling process, it doesn’t add cost or time. 

These UV tags are invisible to the human eye, printed in flexographic inks by Wirral-based specialist printing company Tipografic. 

But the tags can then be read by new technology fitted to sorting machines at the recycling centre. The technology was developed by Polytag in partnership with researchers at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). 

Accurate data gathered in real time will be uploaded to a cloud-based analytics dashboard, giving Polytag and Co-op a detailed, new perspective on exactly how many bottles are processed. 

Rob Thompson, Packaging Manager for Co-op, said that the trial, ‘will provide valuable insight to shape guidance and measurement for future initiatives to encourage more people to recycle.’ 

Alice Rackley, CEO of Polytag, added that, ‘The onus is now firmly on the industry to take responsibility for the packaging they produce.’ 

The hope is that this trial will have benefits for the sector as whole, leading to more cost-effective and less carbon intensive roll-out of digital deposit reward schemes (DDRS). That will also be good news for the consumer – and the environment.  

DDRS aims to encourage people to recycle more by charging them a small deposit for a container or bottle. That fee is then paid back when the item is recycled. DDRS schemes are due to begin in Scotland on 16 August 2023 and in the rest of the UK from October 2025. 

In addition, the Co-op/Polytag scheme will use QR codes, already commonly used on packaging to provide additional information, to lead customers to a web page with more details of the company’s commitments to sustainability. 

This is just one more example of the many ways in which technology is helping us to deal with waste more effectively. In January, Wolverhampton Council hoped to reduce its CO2 emissions by 96 tonnes per year by investing in four new electric road-sweepers.

Photo by Brian Yurasits


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