Under the auspices of AIM, the European Brands Association, more than 85 companies and organisations from the complete packaging value chain have joined forces with the ambitious goal to assess whether a pioneering digital technology can enable better sorting and higher-quality recycling rates for packaging in the EU, to drive a truly circular economy.
The objective of the Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0 is to prove the viability of digital watermarking technologies for accurate sorting and the business case at large scale.
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The Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0 – facilitated by AIM, the European Brands Association, as the next iteration of the initial HolyGrail project under the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2016-2019) – is a pilot project with the objective to prove the viability of digital watermarking technologies for accurate sorting and consequently higher-quality recycling, as well as the business case at large scale.
Digital watermarks are imperceptible codes, the size of a postage stamp, covering the surface of a consumer goods packaging and carrying a wide range of attributes. The aim is that once the packaging has entered into a waste sorting facility, the digital watermark can be detected and decoded by a standard high resolution camera on the sorting line, which then – based on the transferred attributes (e.g. food vs. non-food) – is able to sort the packaging in corresponding streams. This would result in better and more accurate sorting streams, thus consequently in higher-quality recyclates benefiting the complete packaging value chain.
For an overview on the initiative, please have a look at our general HolyGrail 2.0 Presentation.
The membership is open to all interested stakeholders from the packaging value chain. So far 85+ companies and organisations have registered to HolyGrail 2.0. If your company/organisation is interested in joining or would like to know more about the initiative, please have a look at our membership kit and/or reach directly out to the Secretariat via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The HolyGrail 2.o Membership Kit includes:
The digital watermarks project was part of the broader pioneering project HolyGrail 1.0 which, facilitated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and bringing together different stakeholders from the packaging value chain, ran from 2016-2019.
Within this project, different innovative initiatives in the field of improving post-consumer recycling by using chemical tracers and digital watermarks for better sorting were investigated. Digital watermarks were found to be the most promising technology within HolyGrail 1.0, gathering support among the large majority of stakeholders. The technology opens new possibilities for sorting that are currently not feasible with existing sorting technologies. Through the creation of smart packaging, it also has the potential to be used in other areas such as consumer engagement, supply chain visibility and retail operations. At the end of HolyGrail 1.0, a basic proof-of-concept for digital watermarks on packaging was established and demonstrated on a test sorting line during an Open House in May 2019.
The branded goods industry has now stepped in to facilitate HolyGrail 2.0 as a cross-value chain initiative to assess how a pioneering digital technology can enable better sorting and higher-quality recycling rates in the EU, leading to a true circular economy.
The objective of the Digital Watermarks initiative HolyGrail 2.0 is to prove the viability of digital watermarking technologies for accurate sorting and the business case at large scale.
In order to pursue this digital innovation to deliver on sustainability goals, the branded goods industry has now set up a platform to take this initiative to the next stage. All participants have signed up to the HolyGrail 2.0 Charter which outlines the structure and governance of the project.
This next iteration of the project, HolyGrail 2.0, is taking place on a much greater scale and scope. In the first step of HolyGrail 2.0, the technology will be validated at a test sorting facility on a semi-industrial scale. Brand owners and retailers will work together with packaging and technology suppliers to modify their packaging with digital watermarks. After that, the plan is upscale to industrial testing by introducing digitally watermarked packaging from a range of brand owners and retailers into national test market(s).
BBC video: Invisible barcodes & recycling
HolyGrail 2.0 looks into coding the surface of packaging for consumer goods with imperceptible codes, so-called digital watermarks. These optical codes are the size of a postage stamp, applied directly within the packaging’s label artwork or embossed in the mould. They can carry a wide range of attributes such as manufacturer, SKU, type of plastics used and composition, food vs. non-food usage, etc. Next to encoding a “digital recycling passport”, digital watermarks also have the potential to be used in other areas such as consumer engagement, supply chain visibility and retail operations.
HolyGrail 2.0 focuses on how digital watermarks can be used for improved sorting processes of post-consumer packaging waste. The aim is that once the packaging coded with digital watermarks has entered into a waste sorting facility, the digital watermark can be detected and decoded by a standard high resolution camera on the sorting line, which then – based on the transferred attributes – is able to sort the packaging in corresponding streams. This would result in better and more accurate sorting streams, thus consequently in higher-quality recyclates benefiting the complete packaging value chain.
The HolyGrail 2.0 initiative has a clear governance and membership structure based on the HolyGrail 2.0 Charter.
The elected HG2.0 leadership team leads, coordinates and manages the activities of the initiative, ensuring effective use of membership fees and involvement of member companies. It overlooks the activities and decides on the set-up of technical working groups that are relevant for progressing the work. The leadership team consists of core members representing each of the sectors engaged in the initiative: brand manufacturers, retailers, multi re-use facilities (MRFs), converters, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) organisations and recyclers.
All HG2.0 members are encouraged to get involved in the different technical working groups of the initiative to contribute with their expertise and knowledge.
All technical work is overlooked and supported by a dedicated Technical Project Manager.