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1. WO2020136379 - RECYCLABLE CONTAINER VERIFICATION SYSTEM

Note: Text based on automatic Optical Character Recognition processes. Please use the PDF version for legal matters

[ EN ]
RECYCLABLE CONTAINER VERIFICATION SYSTEM

BACKGROUND

Deposit return schemes (DRS) are used in many places globally to encourage individuals to recycle single-use containers, including plastic, glass, and metal bottles.

Typically, the scheme involves a consumer paying an upfront deposit when they buy their beverage which can be redeemed when the empty container is returned. In some schemes a cash reward or vouchers are offered when the drinks container is returned instead of an upfront deposit.

Conventional DRSs involve a network of automated machines, known as reverse vending machines (RVMs). The RVM receives empty containers from the consumer and scans a barcode on the container to identify the type of container, for example the material it is made of or the manufacturer. Once the container has been identified the RVM accepts the container and stores it for subsequent collection by a recycling company. The RVM then returns the consumer’s deposit or issues a voucher or reward to be used at a participating retailer. Once the drinks container has been returned to the machine, a recycling company is responsible for ensuring that they are recycled effectively.

The RVM can either be associated with a retailer which sells the drinks container or there may be dedicated drop-off points which receive containers from a variety of retailers.

Thus, with current DRS systems, containers are identified using the standard barcodes already present in the container and each particular code is associated with a number of drinks containers. This can lead to fraud as it is possible to use the same barcode many times to receive a deposit from the RVM, even though the genuine containers including that code have already been recycled. Unless the RVM knows how many of each product code it is expecting to receive, there is nothing to stop a person from collecting product codes and re-using them for their benefit.

Similarly, fraud has been detected where an RVM does not scan a code but accepts a container based on material. For example, a container can be cut in half and recycled twice.

In an attempt to reduce fraud, current RVMs have built-in sophisticated systems. Typically these systems include a scanner, a display screen (most commonly a touch screen), and a voucher printer. In order to prevent fraud, the RVMs are additionally fitted with a multi-camera system to recognise the container that the label or barcode is attached to, a conveyor system to ensure that the container is taken into the machine and cannot be subsequently removed, a weighing system to check that the bottle has not been taken straight from a retailer and inserted into the RVM without being emptied, and a shredder to ensure that the container cannot be deposited again by destroying the barcode. As is evident, these machines are very costly (ranging from £15,000 to £50,000 each) and a full roll-out across a country requires many thousands of machines for the DRS to be successful. For example, estimates show that the UK could require around 50,000 individual RVM units.

The high cost of conventional DRS systems, driven largely by the need for a network of high cost RVMs and anti-fraud measures, creates huge cost burdens for the drinks industry or government, and ultimately the consumer, as well as creating huge challenges for governments and other regulatory bodies. Additionally, current DRS systems are highly complex and they may have limited accessibility especially in more rural areas where RVMs may be less common. The consumer may therefore have to travel significant distances to find a suitable RVM in which they can deposit their container, which may deter consumers from engaging with the process. Although conventional systems allow for some stores to receive empty containers, for example in more rural areas where RVMs may be unaffordable or there is insufficient space in-store, these systems are manned and so are slower than automated systems. In

addition, these manned systems are limited to participating stores and the opening hours of the stores.

There is therefore a need for a low cost, simplified solution to verifying that a consumer has purchased a drinks container and is eligible to receive a reward in return for recycling the container. Ideally the solution would be able to make use of existing infrastructure, to further reduce the cost.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to a first aspect of the present invention there is provided a recyclable container verification method to be carried out by a processor, comprising the steps of retrieving container identification information from a recyclable container, wherein the container identification information comprises information configured to uniquely identify a container, retrieving collection identification information which identifies a collection point for receiving recyclable containers, identifying whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold; accessing a database comprising container identification information for a plurality of containers and collection identification information for a plurality of collection points; comparing the retrieved container identification information and the retrieved collection identification information to entries contained within the database; and, if the retrieved container identification information and the retrieved collection identification information are entered in the database and if the relative location is within the threshold: outputting an entry into the database which associates the container with the collection point, such that a container is deemed recycled only when a notification is received in proximity of a suitable collection point

The container identification information may be attached, affixed or otherwise intrinsically linked to the container so as to be retrieved by a machine readable mechanism such as by scanning or through imaging an encoded identifier on the container. The collection identification information may uniquely identify a collection point. The method may be performed at a mobile computing device or a mobile computing device in combination with a remote server.

Advantageously, the present invention uses unique codes or identifiers assigned to each container as well as to each collection point. This coding solution effectively eliminates the opportunity to return any container, or use any code, more than once reducing the opportunity for fraud. In addition, as each container can only be returned once, much of the functionality of current RVMs, including the multi-camera system, conveyor, and weighing system of the highly sophisticated built-in fraud prevention systems, becomes redundant.

The method may be performed by a mobile computing device such as a smartphone or the functionality may be shared by a computing device and a remote server. By passing the majority of the functionality of existing reverse vending machines to smartphones (excluding storage and crushing), that is, container validation and verification of the container at (or in) the machine as well as communicating to the consumer information on the deposited containers, rewards, and account information, reverse vending machines can be completely eliminated or at least reduced in functionality. This means that, advantageously, existing recycling infrastructure can be used with minimal additional investment, saving huge costs and complexity. Additionally, by removing functionality from the RVM, the collection point which receives the container does not need to be powered which significantly reduces the cost of the required infrastructure.

The concept of a proximity check of the container with the collection point provides for increased confidence that the container has been recycled or will be recycled in that collection point. Similarly, cross-validation upon recycling can be performed since there is provided understanding of which container was placed into which collection point. Where a unique code is used and attached to the container, it becomes possible to validate that unique code and associate the code to a collection point which reduces the opportunities for fraud by bulk scanning or by scanning with no intention of recycling.

The unique identification can be validated using processors on a mobile computing device such as a mobile phone. By implementing the verification system on a mobile device, the consumer is required to sign up to the

verification system which means that payments and rewards can be linked to the consumer’s behaviour. For example, the bins can be audited to make sure that the containers have been returned and individuals who litter can be identified as their containers will not have been placed in the recycling bin. It may also be possible to associate the unique code on the container to the name of the consumer on the reward account, providing subsequent information on recycling behaviour and littering.

The invention therefore provides a low cost and vastly simplified solution to recycling that can use existing infrastructure. Furthermore, due to the verification system of the present invention being able to be implemented quickly and cheaply, the verification system can be implemented in countries that otherwise may not have been able to justify the huge cost of rolling out the initial verification system. The invention therefore has the ability to support phased roll outs without the need for high capital or investment in redundant systems and processes.

In some examples, the container identification information may be encoded as a data matrix code and the data matrix code may be attached to the recyclable container. The data matrix code may be a QR code, or any other suitable code which can be easily produced on large scales. Preferably the encoded identifier is thus able to be quickly and easily machine readable by conventional computing devices. The step of retrieving container identification information may comprise scanning the data matrix code attached to the recyclable container. Scanning provides a quick and simple method of collecting information which does not require direct contact between components. Nevertheless there is an assumed colocation of the user, i.e. the mobile computing device performing the scanning, and the container comprising the encoded identifier. Thus, when combined the proximity check of the above aspect, it is known that the user, the mobile computing device, the container and the collection point are all substantially proximal so as to provide a high degree of certainty that a user has deposited that container in that collection point.

The collection point may comprise a tag which may be configured to electronically store the collection identification information. For example a passive or active electronic tag which is suitable for electronic communication of data. This allows known collection points, for example conventional recycling bins, to be incorporated into the verification system of the present invention by fixing or attaching a tag to the known collection point. This significantly reduces manufacturing costs, as well as providing a very quick and simple way of implementing the verification system, as standard components and infrastructure can be used. Thus, large quantities of bespoke components do not need to be manufactured specially for this verification system to be implemented. A tag which can be attached and detached to surfaces can advantageously be used with a wide variety of known collection points and bins. That is, a specific type of recycling bin is not required as the tag can be applied to any surface of an object which is capable of receiving and storing a container, with low cost.

The tag may comprise a transmitter which emits a signal configured to provide the collection identification information to a mobile computing device. For example the tag may be a passive NFC tag which emits a data signal when in communication with a mobile computing device. Alternatively, the tag may comprise a transceiver which transmits a first signal and receives a second signal and the tag may be configured to communicate with a mobile computing device to exchange identification information. The tag may also include a processor configured to perform verification and/or communicate with a remote server.

The tag may therefore include much the functionality of the verification system. In certain embodiments, unlike a conventional RVM system which requires the recycling bin itself to carry out the technical steps of scanning the containers when they are recycled and carry out any additional processing, a tag or mobile computing device may perform this function.

The step of retrieving collection identification information may comprise receiving, at a mobile computing device, a short range communication signal emitted by the tag wherein the signal includes the collection identification

information. The tag may be configured to actively or passively emit a signal. That is, the tag may transfer data in response to a magnetic field being induced, such as by a mobile device. In some cases the tag may emit the short range communication signal using a wireless communication protocol, such as RFID, NFC, BlueTooth®, BlueTooth Low Energy® or WiFi®. In the case of a passive NFC tag, the tag comprises information that other devices such as mobile devices can read but the tag does not actively read any information itself. The passive NFC tag may be arranged to transit the stored information to authorized devices when the device has been brought into sufficient proximity to the NFC tag. That is, the passive NFC tag is not actively transmitting the stored information to be picked up by a suitable device. The tag may emit the short range communication signal using electromagnetic fields such as radio frequencies. Such communication signals are commonly used and so processors of common portable computing devices, such as smartphones, can be used to perform functionality of the above aspect, retrieve the identification and perform a proximity check based on receipt of the signals. Thus, the methodology can be implemented using known protocols.

Preferably, the step of identifying whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold may comprise receiving, at a mobile computing device, a short range communication signal emitted by the tag. Thus there is in an exchange of information and an implied proximity by receipt of the information such that it is known that a user, device, container and collection point are each substantially collocated.

The step of identifying whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold may comprise retrieving a current GNSS location of a mobile computing device, obtaining a location of the collection point, and comparing the current GNSS location to the location of the collection point. Obtaining a location may for example include retrieving a fixed, known location from a database or obtaining a GNSS location of the collection point by communicating with the collection point either using a remote server or through peer-to-peer communication. By GNSS we mean any satellite-based location system such as GPS. This provides a simple means of determining the

relative locations and thus performing a proximity check to obtain certainty that the container is to be recycled. The simple means results from either the collection point being fixed or because it has been determined using, for example, satellite navigations signals.

The step of identifying whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold may comprise receiving, at an electronic device attached to the collection point, a short range communication signal emitted by a mobile computing device. In this way the method may be performed at a remote server with minimal computational requirements at the mobile computing device. For example, the mobile device may transmit identification information to the collection point for transmittal to a remote server where deposit value can be attributed. However, implied proximity is maintained.

The method may comprise identifying whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold using a short range communication signal sent between a mobile computing device and a tag. In addition, the method may comprise identifying a location of the mobile computing device using GNSS. The method may comprise comparing the GNSS location of the mobile computing device to an expected location of the collection point. Thus, if geolocation is identified as the containers are scanned this confirms that all the containers are being scanned close to the recycling location. Advantageously, this prevents the recycling bin or tag from being transported away from their initial location or from the tag being copied and subsequently used to scan other containers that are not near the recycling location. Scanning must be adjacent to not only the recycling bin but also to the designated location of that recycling bin. This two-step proximity check therefore helps prevent fraud in the recycling system as both requirements have to be satisfied for the container to be verified and validated.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a mobile computing device for recyclable container verification comprising a processor configured to: retrieve container identification information from a container

wherein the container identification information comprises information configured to uniquely identify a container; retrieve collection identification information which identifies a collection point; identify whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold; access a database comprising container identification information for a plurality of containers and collection identification information for a plurality of collection points; compare the retrieved container identification information and the retrieved collection identification information to entries contained within the database; and, if the retrieved container identification information and the retrieved collection identification information are entered in the database and if the relative location is within the threshold: output an entry into the database which associates the container with the collection point, such that a container is deemed recycled only when a notification of recycling is received in proximity of a suitable collection point.

The container identification information may comprise a property integral to the container. The mobile device may further comprise a scanner or scanning module, for example a camera, which may be configured to scan a data matrix code or property integral with the container to retrieve the container identification information. The device may comprise a scanning means suitable for retrieving identification information from a container which has been suitably adapted with an encoded identifier. The collection identification information may be retrieved from a tag attached to the collection point. The mobile computing device may thus be arranged to retrieve the collection identification information from the tag using a short range communication protocol such as NFC where the tag comprises a passive NFC storage means storing encoded data. A suitable transceiver module may be provided. In some implementations, a code such as a bar code may be attached to the collection point instead of an NFC tag. The step of identifying whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold may comprise scanning the bar code, such that proximity is inferred. In this case, the collection identification information is encoded within the bar code.

The mobile computing device may be configured to receive a short range communication signal from the tag, the signal including the collection identification information. The mobile computing device may be configured to identify whether a relative location of the container and the collection point is within a proximity threshold based on receipt of the short range communication signal.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a collection point for receiving recyclable containers comprising a tag which electronically stores and transmits collection identification information which uniquely identifies the collection point. A collection point may comprise an encoded identifier, the identifier comprising collection identification information which uniquely identifies the collection point. The collection point may be suitable for use with any of the above aspects or embodiments. For example, the collection point may be comprise an NFC tag passively storing encoded data or a processor and transceiver arranged to communicate identification information to a mobile computing device located spatially proximal to the collection point. In certain embodiments the identifier may be stored on a tag. The tag may be attached to an external surface of the collection point or integral with it. This ensures the tag is easy to locate by a user.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a recyclable container verification system comprising a mobile computing device as described previously and a collection point as described previously.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a computer program comprising instructions which, when the program is executed by a computer, cause the computer to carry out the method of the recyclable container verification system described above.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a computer-readable storage medium comprising instructions which, when executed by a computer, cause the computer to carry out the method of the recyclable container verification system described above.

A DRS system facilitated by aspects of the invention prevents recycling collection trucks from driving around empty containers, which reduces congestion and pollution in built up areas. Additionally, DRSs sort bottles into material types whilst keeping them clean and in good condition before they are picked up by the recycling business to be reused. This makes the deposited bottles more valuable for companies looking to either buy whole containers to refill or older containers to recycle and produce new containers as less initially processing of the empty container is required.

Aspects of the invention provide for a recyclable container verification system which facilities attribution of value to a user of a deposit return scheme in the home, reducing the cost of complexity of recycling collection by associating a user with a valid recycling action with a high degree of certainty and reduced fraud by mitigating the risk of value being attributed to a non-valid recycling activity such as multiple activations of the same container or a value being requested for a contain which is not recycled.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Embodiments of the present invention will now be described by way of example only with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 is a schematic view of a verification system including a container, collection point, and mobile device;

Figure 2 is a schematic view of an alternative container to be used in the verification system; and,

Figure 3 is a flow chart representing a method of verification according to the present disclosure.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention provides a method of verifying that a consumer has subsequently recycled that container after purchase, making the consumer

eligible to receive a reward in return for recycling the container. The verification process involves associating a particular beverage container purchased by the user with a particular recycling point chosen by the consumer. Once it has been confirmed that both the container and recycling point are within a certain proximity to each other, the user can deposit the container in the recycling point. Once the container has been recycled the recycling process may be validated and the consumer is informed that the recycling process has been completed and that they will be rewarded or compensated in a manner chosen by the recycling scheme in question.

A specific example of a deposit return scheme (DRS) system 10 for validating, tracking, and recycling drinks containers will now be described in the context of Figure 1. It will of course be understood that the principles may be varied however the specific example described provides for unique identification of a container and a proximity check that the container is substantially co-located with a valid collection point at the point of redemption. The DRS system 10 includes a drinks container 12 having an identifier 14 and a collection point 16.

The identifier 14 associated with the drinks container is a unique identifier. That is, each drinks container 12 has an identifier 14 that is different from all the other identifiers 14 on all the other drinks containers 12 which are part of the DRS. Each identifier 14 is therefore only used once.

The unique identifier 14 preferably takes the form of a code 18 printed onto the external surface 20 of the drinks container 12. The code 18 can be a data matrix code, such as a QR code, or a bar code. However, any other suitable code could also be used which is able to act as a unique identifier. In some cases, the unique identifier 14 may be in the form of a label affixed to an external surface of the drinks container 12 or directly printed. The label can either be attached to the container surface using a suitable adhesive or the label can be printed onto the container surface during manufacturing. Similarly, the unique identifier 14 may be stored on a passive data storage device such as an NFC tag or sticker. What is important is that the unique identifier 14 is able to uniquely identify the container 12 to a manufacturer and can therefore be scanned using an

appropriate mechanism or technology. As will be understood, the unique identifier 14 may also be encrypted, for example using a cryptographic hash function.

In some cases, instead of having a unique identifier 14 printed onto the outside of the container 12, the container 12 is designed to have a unique property 22 associated with it, as shown in Figure 2. The unique property 22 is integral with the container 12 and is formed during manufacture of the container 12, rather than being applied to the container 12 post-manufacturing. The unique property 22 therefore acts as a fingerprint associated with the container 12. In this case, the unique property 22 takes the form of a specific marker 24 within the material out of which the container 12 is made. For example, the marker 24 could be a plurality of protrusions and/or indentations created during the manufacturing process and forming part of the walls of the container. The protrusions and/or indentations being arranged in a unique pattern on each separate container 12 so that each individual container 12 which is part of the DRS can be identified based on the pattern of protrusions and/or indentations. As will be appreciated any other form of unique marker that forms an integral part of the container could also be used.

In this example, the collection point 16 takes the form of a recycling bin 26 having an electronic tag 28 associated with it. The tag 28 provides a way of identifying the particular recycling bin 26 that the consumer uses to recycle their container 12. The tag 28 also distinguishes recycling bins 26 which form part of the DRS system 10 from those which are general recycling bins which are not part of the DRS system 10.

The tag 28 is preferably attached to an external surface of the recycling bin 26. This ensures that the consumer can easily locate the tag 28 when they arrive at the recycling bin 26. Additionally, attaching the tag 28 to the recycling bin 26 allows conventional recycling bins 26 to be used rather than having to manufacture specific recycling bins 26. That is, the tag 28 can simply be fixed to current recycling bins 26 which allows the tag 28 to be used with current recycling infrastructure. Being able to make use of current infrastructure helps reduce overall production and set-up costs. Furthermore, by only requiring an additional tag 28 to be attached to conventional recycling bins 26, the overall recycling system and its corresponding infrastructure is kept simple and easy to use. Consumers will not have to change or modify their behaviour and will not have to learn how to use new, complicated pieces of equipment. Thus, the tag 28 provides a simple, intuitive way of modifying current recycling bins 26.

In some cases, the tag 28 may be located within the recycling bin 26 on an internal surface of the recycling bin 26. Positioning the tag 28 within the main body of the recycling bin 26 prevents the tag 28 from becoming damaged by external factors such as the weather. Preferably, the tag 28 is located close to the opening, or main entrance, of the recycling bin 26. This ensures that the tag 28 can be easily accessed if necessary, for example for upgrade or repair.

The function and configuration of the tag 28 will be described in more detail below.

A consumer interacts with the DRS system 10 using a mobile application 30, which may also be referred to as an“app”, which has been installed on a mobile computing device 32. Before the consumer uses the DRS system 10 for the first time, they must create and set-up a consumer profile within the app 30. This ensures that the consumer’s recycling activities can be tracked and logged accurately.

The application 30 may communicate with a remote server 40 comprising a database 42 which stores centralised data for the system and/or performs functionality of the system as described herein as being performed within the app. For example, the app may only provide minimal data exchange where the steps are performed remotely.

When the consumer purchases a drink container 12 which is part of the DRS, the consumer pays a premium deposit to the retailer in addition to the base cost of the drink. When the consumer disposes of the drinks container 12 at a

suitable collection point 16 the consumer receives their deposit back. This can be credited to an account associated with the consumer.

The app 30 therefore also acts as an online wallet within the DRS system 10 which can be used to keep track of a consumer’s purchases of drinks containers, any associated deposits made at the time of payment, and process deposit refunds accordingly.

In order to verify that a consumer is eligible to receive the refund of the deposit to the consumer the following process is carried out.

The first step is for the consumer to locate a suitable collection point 16 at which they can deposit their empty drinks container 12. The collection point 16 typically takes the form of a recycling bin 26 able to receive containers 12.

When the consumer is positioned next to a recycling bin 26, the consumer opens the app 30 on their mobile device 32 and signs into their profile. The app 30 registers that the consumer is positioned next to a recycling bin 26 that forms part of the DRS system 10, rather than next to any bin, and identifies the particular recycling bin 26 that the consumer is located next to. This is done using the tag 28 attached to the recycling bin 26.

The tag 28 is configured to emit a short range communication signal which can be received and read by a suitable receiving device, for example a mobile computing device 32. The tag 28 therefore acts as a form of transmitter. The emitted signal is used to distinguish one recycling bin 26 from another recycling bin 26. The signal emitted by the tag 28 on each recycling bin 26 is therefore unique to each recycling bin 26. In addition to identifying the recycling bin 26, the signal may include information about the location of the recycling bin 26 and the retailer or recycling company which may own the recycling bin 26. Unless the mobile computing device 32 is within close proximity of the tag 28, the tag 28 cannot be recognised, providing validation that the mobile device 32 is in the location of the recycling bin 26.

The mobile computing device may also determine its current location using a GNSS measurement such as GPS. Thus the current location of the recycling bin can be inferred as the proximity of the bin to the smartphone is inferred. The location of the recycling bin 26 (from the phone location) is validated against centrally stored data, including the locations of all the recycling bins 26 that are part of the verification system. Containers 12 will only be able to be scanned if they are within a certain proximity of the validated recycling bin 26, preventing someone from scanning the recycling bin 26 outside a retailer and then going inside the retailer and scanning a container 12 on a shelf inside.

The tag 28 can use any suitable wireless communication protocol for example, NFC, Bluetooth®, Bluetooth Low Energy® or WiFi®. Typically the tag 28 is a passive NFC tag. The mobile computing device 32 therefore transmits an initial signal to the tag 28 and then subsequently receives a signal back from the tag 28. The tag may, alternatively, be an RFID tag. In some cases, the tag 28 is not a transmitter as it does not emit a signal. In this case, the tag 28 may be in the form of a barcode which can be scanned by a mobile computing device 32 in order to identify the recycling bin 26 and confirm proximity. As the recycling bin 26 will, in general, be in a fixed location, it is possible to store this predetermined location of the recycling bin 26 in the tag 28, which is then able to communicate this information to the mobile device 32.

If the recycling bin 28 is likely to be moved around between several locations, the tag 28 can include a GPS tracker which is able to receive the location of the recycling bin 26 at any given time from a satellite. The GPS tracker can then communicate the position information to the tag 28, which can then transmit the position as well as the unique identification of the recycling bin 26 to the app 30.

The tag 28 therefore transmits recycling bin identification information contained within the tag 28, via the emitted signal, to the mobile device 32. Since, in general, the recycling bin 26 will always be in the same location, the identification information of the recycling bin 26 will automatically be associated with a particular location. If, on the other hand, the recycling bin additionally comprises a GPS tracker, location information is also sent to the app 30 along with the identification information.

Once the consumer has used the app 30 on their mobile device 32 to either receive a signal from the recycling bin tag 28 or scan a code on the recycling bin 28, the app 30 confirms that the consumer is located next to a recycling bin 26 that is part of the DRS system 10 and makes a note of the particular bin 26 that the consumer is next to.

The consumer then uses the app 30 to scan the unique identification code 18 on the drinks container 12. If the consumer is returning more than one drinks container 12 in one visit, the consumer scans all the codes 18 on all the containers 12 that the consumer is planning on returning.

Once all the codes 18 have been logged by the app 30, the app 30 confirms whether or not the container 12 associated with each code 18 is valid. A valid container 12 is one whose code 18 has not previously been scanned by any app 30 by any consumer that has signed up to the DRS system 10. An invalid container 12 is one whose code 18 has already been logged by an app 30 indicating that that code 18 has already been used to claim a deposit. This code 18 cannot be used again and so even if the consumer proceeds to recycle the invalid container 12 they will not receive a deposit for that container 12. Preferably, the code 18 on the container 12 is validated as each container 12 is scanned in real time. However, in some examples, continuous scanning of all the containers 12 may take place first and then all the codes 18 of all the scanned containers 12 are validated once the scanning has been complete.

Once the app 30 has confirmed the validity, or invalidity, of all the containers 12 scanned by the consumer, each valid container 12 is marked in the app 30 as being associated with the recycling bin 28 at which the consumer has chosen. This allows the app 30, and any interested third parties, to keep track of which containers 12 have been deposited in which recycling bins 26. Associating each valid container 12 with a particular recycling bin 26 prevents that particular container 12 from being associated with a different recycling bin 26 at a later point in time. This would occur if someone fraudulently tried to deposit the same container 12 in more than one collection point 16 so as to claim multiple rewards for recycling the same container 12. The use of unique codes 18 on each container 12 helps ensure that this type of fraud cannot occur.

Thus, associating each container 12 with a particular collection point 16, such as a particular recycling bin 26, prevents one container 12 from being deposited at more than one collection point 16. This is because the app 30 will already have registered the container 12 as being entered into the system with its corresponding first collection point location and will not accept a second collection point for the same container 12.

The app 30 checks whether the consumer and the recycling bin 26 are sufficiently close together or otherwise proximal such that it can be assumed that the consumer will subsequently place the container 12 in question into the recycling bin 26 in question. The app 30 therefore carries out a proximity check on the consumer and the recycling bin 26. The proximity check may be performed by receipt of the short range communication signal since a signal may only be received when in proximity as it has a fixed propagation.

Similarly, if the tag is a passive NFC tag, only a short range of the transmission from the mobile computing device will enable the tag to communicate its stored data to the mobile computing device.

In other more complicated examples, time of arrival information may be used. The distance between the consumer and the recycling bin 26 can be determined using the time it takes for signal emitted by the tag 28 to reach the mobile device 32. If the calculated distance between the consumer and the recycling bin 26 is within a certain limit, it is determined that the consumer is sufficiently close to the recycling bin 26.

As the app 30 has also received the identification information associated with the container 12, if the consumer is sufficiently close to the recycling bin 26 it follows that the container is also sufficiently close to the recycling bin 26 because the consumer has scanned the container whilst within an acceptable relative distance or proximity threshold of the recycling bin 26.

The proximity check is important because it prevents the consumer from scanning a container 12 at one location and receiving identification information from a recycling bin 26 at a different location, which could increase the likelihood of fraudulently recycling containers 12 at more than one location point, or indeed not recycling the container 12 at all. The proximity check ensures that the consumer is next to a recycling bin 26 with a container 12 to be recycled and so helps ensure that the steps of identifying the recycling bin 26 and the container 12 are carried out at the same time and location. Additionally, the proximity check ensures that containers 12 that have not yet been purchased cannot be scanned and so no deposit or reward can be fraudulently credited to the consumer.

Once the association process and proximity checks have been carried out, the consumer receives an indication from the app 30 that the preliminary checks have been successfully completed. The consumer then places the containers 12 into the recycling bin 26 for recycling. In some cases, once all the containers 12 have been deposited into the recycling bin 26, the consumer confirms with the app 30 that no more deposits are to be made. However, in other cases the app 30 will automatically log the consumer out based on a period of inactivity or the consumer moving sufficient far away from the collection point 16 that they are deemed to be not recycling.

In some implementations, the recycling bin 26 is fitted with a gate that is controlled by the app 30. When the app 30 has confirmed that the container 12 is valid, the app 30 sends a signal to the gate to activate and open the gate. The consumer can then deposit the scanned container 12 into the recycling bin 26. If the app 30 determines that the container is not valid, the gate is not activated and the consumer is not able to recycle the invalid container 12. This prevents the recycling bin 26 from becoming contaminated with foreign objects which are not intended to be recycled, for example general rubbish.

The app 30 then calculates the values of the containers 12 that have been returned and processes the transaction. The consumer’s account can then be credited either by refunding their deposit into their account, by receiving reward points which can be credited towards future purchases, or receiving vouchers which can be spent in particular retailers.

Once the transaction has been completed, the consumer can sign out of their account. Alternatively, the app 30 may automatically sign the consumer out after a certain period of inactivity has been registered. At any point in the future, the consumer may be able to log into their account and review a summary of their recycling history or redeem points and/or vouchers that the consumer has collected.

Although the steps of identifying the recycling bin 26 using the tag 28 and validating the container 12 using the unique identification code 18 have been described as separate steps, in practice they may be carried out at the same time. For example, while the consumer is scanning the unique identification code 18 on the container 12, the app 30 may pick up a signal emitted from the tag 28 on the recycling bin 26 to identify the recycling bin 26 and implicitly determine proximity.

In some implementations, the recycling bins 26 are in wireless communication with a remote server. The recycling bins 26 may send a signal, for example via the tag 28 on the recycling bin 26, to the server when the recycling bin 26 is full. A processing company can then automatically schedule a recycling truck to the collection point 16 and empty all the recycling bins 26 at that collection point 16 which are full.

In some cases, the recycling bins 26 are fitted with crushers to crush the empty drinks containers 12 to increase the number of containers 12 which can be recycled at any given recycling bin 26.

In order to avoid the need for the consumer to scan all the unique identification codes 18 on all the containers 12, which may take some time, the scanning of

the unique identification code 18 may be done by the collection point 16, for example by a scanning or imaging device located on the recycling bin 26.

In this case, as before, the consumer locates a suitable collection point 16, for example a recycling bin 26, at which they can deposit their empty drinks container 12.

When the consumer is positioned next to the recycling bin 26, the consumer optionally opens the app 30 on their mobile device 32 and signs into their profile. The app 30 registers that the consumer is positioned next to a recycling bin 26 that forms part of the DRS system 10, rather than next to any bin, and identifies the particular recycling bin 26 that the consumer is located next to. Again, this is done using the tag 28 attached to the recycling bin 26. This can be carried out by the consumer holding their mobile device 32 near the tag 28 on the recycling bin 28 or physically placing the mobile device 32 on a specific target point on the recycling bin 28. The specific target point may correspond to the position of the tag 28 if the tag 28 is attached to the outside of the recycling bin 26. Alternatively, the specific target point could be marked on the outside of the recycling bin and be positioned above the tag 28 which is located within the recycling bin 26.

Similarly, the mobile computing device 32 may be passive and communicates identification information to the recycling bin 26 which processes the transaction in communication with a remote server.

As before, the tag 28 uses any suitable wireless communication protocol to communication with the app 30 on the mobile device 32. The consumer therefore uses the app 30 on their mobile device 32 to receive a signal from the recycling bin tag 28 and the app 30 confirms that the consumer is located next to a recycling bin 26 that is part of the DRS system 10. The app 30 can then make a record of the particular recycling bin 26 that the consumer is next to.

Whilst the app is in wireless communication with the recycling bin 28, the consumer brings the container 12 to be recycled into close proximity with the

scanning or imaging device. In this case, the unique identification code 18 on the container is also is the form of a tag which can transmit a short range signal. The signal transmitted by the unique identification code 18 uniquely identifies the container 12 to the recycling bin 28. The signal is received by the scanning or imaging device and subsequently transmitted to the tag 28 on the recycling bin 26, the tag 28 acting as a transceiver, and then both the identification of the recycling bin 28 and the container 12 are sent to the app 30 via the tag 28.

The container 12 which is to be recycled is therefore associated with the particular recycling bin 28 at which the consumer is located. This prevents the consumer from scanning the unique identification code 18 on the container 12 and then not recycling the container 12

In all the examples described above, if the location of the collection point 16 is fixed, the mobile device 32 can be verified as being in close proximity of the collection point 16 (such as a recycling bin 26) through geolocation. This can be performed either through reporting to a central server by the app 30 or by the app 30 itself determining a current GPS location of the mobile device 32 and comparing that location to the fixed location of the collection point 16.

The verification process is then carried out as before. If both the recycling bin 28 and the container 12 are valid, the consumer’s account is credited and the container 12 is recycled. Thus, the account is only credited if the consumer is located next to a valid recycling bin 28 with a valid container 12 which can be recycled.

As not all consumers have access to mobile computing devices, it is important that the DRS system 10 can still be used by consumers without requiring the need for a mobile device. In this implementation, the DRS system 10 functions as an over-the-counter system rather than as the self-service system described above. Using the over-the-counter system rather than the self-service system requires the consumer to recycle containers 12 at a branch of a participating retailer. It is important is that the consumer can be verified as recycling the container 12 by proximity.

To use the over-the-counter system, employees of the retailer may use the same app 30 described previously that is used by the consumers of the self-service system. This allows a single app 30 to be developed which can be used by a wide variety of consumers and is compatible with multiple different system. Alternatively, in other implementations, the app used by the employees may be slightly different to the app 30 used in the self-service system. For example, the app 30 may include additional functionality which is specific to a particular retailer such as promotions and offers.

When the consumer returns to the retailer to recycle their empty containers 12, the employee scans the identifiers 14 on all the containers 12 that the consumer is returning in that particular visit. As before, when the identifier 14 of each container 12 is scanned, the app 30 verifies whether the container 12 is genuine or not by determining whether or not the particular identifier 14 has been scanned previously or not. Once the validity check has been performed, each valid container 12 is associated with the location of the retailer as before. Thus, each container 12 will be registered by the app 30 as being deposited at a particular retailer.

As the location of the retailer will not change, the fact that an employee has scanned the container 12 and this scanning action will be automatically associated with the location of the retailer confirms that the consumer is sufficiently close to the recycling point 16. Thus, a specific proximity check does not need to be performed because the proximity check is automatically carried out by virtue of the fact that the employee must be located at the recycling point 16 and, by extension, the consumer and container 12 must also be located at that same recycling point 16.

The employee then receives confirmation that the container 12 is genuine and deposits the container 12 in a collection point 16. Once all valid deposits have been made the consumers account can be credited, as before. Alternatively, the employee may directly give the consumer the refund as cash. If the employee receives an indication that the container 12 is not valid, he may either return the container 12 to the consumer or recycle the container 12 anyway but no refund is issued for that container 12.

Once the container 12 has been successfully deposited, in both the self-service system and the over-the-counter system, an external recycling company is responsible for processing the containers 12. In some optional implementations when the recycling company receives the containers 12 (or the collection points or contents thereof in bulk) the recycling company can mark the containers 12 as having been successfully received at the recycling centre. This could be done through the app 30 and the recycling company can indicate to a central server that the container 12 has been received. A consumer’s account can then be updated to indicate that the recycling process for a particular container 12 that the consumer has deposited has been successfully completed. Thus the consumer receives confirmation that their containers 12 have been collected and processed by the recycling company.

In some optional implementations, the consumer will only receive their reward once this final confirmation has been sent to their account. The final confirmation step therefore acts as a final fraud-preventing barrier as the consumer only receives their reward for recycling once it has been confirmed that the container 12 which they intended to recycle did in fact get recycled. This reduces the chance of the consumer depositing containers 12 into collection points 16 that are not valid or from trying to recycle invalid containers 12 at valid collection points. Thus, the optional verification system provides a closed loop checking system to help prevent individuals from fraudulently claiming rewards which they are not eligible for.

Containers 12 which are found to be in an unapproved recycling bin or a found littering the streets, in other words, those not correctly deposited, will be able to be associated with the consumer who claimed back the deposit or reward. It will therefore be possible to determine which consumers are not complying with the recycling scheme. In this case, the reward or deposit initially credited to that user could be withdrawn or withheld, in order to encourage compliance.

In order to provide an additional and optional audit step, should it be desired, the recycling centre may include an optional identification system which is able to identify both the recycling bin 26 and the containers 12 within the recycling bin 26 arriving at the recycling centre. The identification of the containers 12 and recycling bins 26 may be carried out using the unique identifiers 14 on the containers 12 and the tag 28 on the recycling bins 26.

Typically an identification system as used with the system herein will be a scanning system which is able to scan the identifier 14 on the container 12. The identification system also includes a receiver which is able to receive the emitted signal from the tag 28 and read the identification information contained within the tag 28.

Once the identification system has retrieved the identification information of both the container 12 and the recycling bin 26 in which it was deposited, the identification system associates the container 12 with the recycling bin 26. The identification system is preferably in data communication with a server so that once the association between the container 12 and the recycling bin 26 has been made, this association can be communicated to the app 30.

In an optional implementation proposed in addition to the concepts described above, the system may check if the association made initially at the time of deposition by the consumer matches the association made by an identification system at the recycling centre. If the associations match, then it may be inferred that the container 12 has been has been received at the recycling centre and successfully processed, completing the recycling process. The system may optionally then release the refund or reward to the consumer. If the associations do not match, the app 30 may inform the user and no refund or reward may be issued.

In both the self-service implementation and the over-the-counter implementation, the app 30 may be connected to with communication with an online database, for example a cloud-based database. The database may include details of all the containers 12 and their associated identifiers 14 that form part of the DRS

system 10. When the app 30 scans the identifier 14 on the container 12, the database may be updated to indicate that that particular identifier 14 and container 12 has been processed for a first time. When a consumer tries to use the same identifier 14 for a second time, the database communicates to the app 30 that the identifier 14 has already been processed once and is not available for processing a further time. The app 30 can then inform the consumer that the container 12 is not valid and reject the identifier 14.

In addition, the database provides a convenient way of storing all the information about the container 12 of the DRS system 10 in one place that can be accessed by all apps 30 in the DRS system 10. This ensures that if different consumers try to use the same identifier 14, only the first consumer using that identifier 14 can claim the reward while the second consumer will be informed that the identifier 14 is no longer valid. The database therefore further increases the security of the overall DRS system 10 as all consumers have access to the most recent, update information regarding their containers.

The database can also be used to provide recycling companies with information about recycling patterns in particular areas or in relation to particular types of products, for example plastic versus glass containers. This information can subsequently be used by recycling companies to ensure that the DRS system is running efficiently. For example, more collection points 16 can be placed in areas where recycling rates are particularly high.

In some implementations, blockchain may be used to track the attribution of value in the DRS system 10. A system for attributing value using blockchain is described in United Kingdom patent application GB1810209.5 by the same applicant which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety. In this case both the initial deposit paid during the purchase and the refund are logged and checked by the blockchain to ensure that the refund is associated with the correct initial deposit and purchase. This helps prevent individuals fraudulently claiming refunds when they have not made an initial purchase or trying to claim a greater refund than is justified by the initial purchase.

Instead of recycling bins 26 being located remotely, either at a centralised collection point or within a retailer, a suitable recycling bin 26 can be installed in or at the home of the consumer. This allows consumers to quickly and easily recycle their containers 12 at home, without the need to travel anywhere specific in order to recycle the container 12. The at-home system operates in the same way as describe above in that the recycling bin 26 comprises a tag 28 which is scanned and associated with the particular container 12 being recycled in order that the consumer’s account can be credited either once the deposit has been made to the recycling centre or upon scanning of the container 12 within suitable proximity of the collection point 16.

In conclusion, the present invention provides a recyclable container verification method which can be carried out on a processor, as will be summarised with reference to Figure 3. The first step is for the processor to retrieve S101 container identification information from the container 12. The processor then retrieves S102 collection identification information from a collection point 16, the collection identification information identifying a particular collection point 16 for receiving containers 12 which are to be recycled. Once the identification information has been retrieved, the processor identifies S103 whether a relative location of the container 12 and the collection point 16 is with a proximity threshold. A database is then accessed S104 which includes container identification information for multiple containers 12 and collection identification information for multiple collection points 16. A comparison S105 is then performed by the processor to see whether the retrieved container identification information and the retrieved collection identification information match the entries within the database. If both the retrieved container identification information and the retrieved collection identification information are found in the database, the processor outputs S106 an entry into the database which associates the container 12 with the collection point 16 if the relative location is within the proximity threshold. A container 12 is then deemed recycled only when a notification is received in proximity of a suitable collection point 16.

The above described verification and validation system encourages consumers to recycle their single use containers without introducing, or increasing, the

likelihood of fraud into the recycling system through, for example, dishonourable eligibility claims of consumers to various refund or rewards schemes.

The verification and validation system achieves this through a single use identification code associated with each container. Once the code has been registered as used for a first time, it is no longer possible to use the same code again. This reduces the chance of the same container being recycled and claiming the reward more than once.

In addition, the verification and validation system increases the chance of the container actually being recycled rather than being scanned and then just thrown away. This is achieved through a combination of the association process, which links a container to a particular collection or recycling point and the proximity check, which checks that the container is in close proximity with the recycling point. The risk that containers that are not deposited correctly can also advantageously be traced back to the relevant consumer.