PIONEERING DIGITAL WATERMARKS FOR SMART PACKAGING RECYCLING IN
Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0.
Welcome to the cross-value chain initiative HolyGrail 2.0
Driven by AIM - European Brands Association and powered by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, over 130 companies and organisations from the complete packaging value chain have joined forces for the Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0 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, driving a truly circular economy.
The objective of the initiative is to prove the viability of digital watermarking technologies for accurate sorting and the business case at large scale.
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About HolyGrail 2.0
The Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0 – driven by AIM - European Brands Association and powered by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste – is a pilot project with the objective to prove the technical viability of digital watermarks for accurate sorting of packaging waste as well as the economic viability of 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 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 more details on the initiative, please see the general HolyGrail 2.0 Presentation.
About HolyGrail 1.0
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 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 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.
About digital watermarks
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, Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU), type of plastics used and composition, food vs. non-food usage. As well as 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 high resolution camera on the sorting line, which then – based on the transferred attributes – is able to sort the packaging in corresponding streams (e.g. food vs. non-food). This would result in better and more accurate sorting streams and consequently in higher-quality recyclates benefiting the complete packaging value chain.
Membership in HolyGrail 2.0 is open to all interested stakeholders from the packaging value chain. So far, 130+ companies and organisations have registered to HolyGrail 2.0.
If your company/organisation is interested in joining,
please have a look at our Membership Kit:
Full membership – open to branded goods manufacturers and retailers only / 20.000 EUR for 2nd project year (July 2021 – June 2022)
Associate membership – open to all stakeholders from the packaging value chain / 3.000 EUR for 2nd project year (July 2021 – June 2022)
HolyGrail 2.0 Charter – outlining the governance and membership structure, meeting and voting rules as well as the anti-trust statement
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Phase 1 -
The prototype phase focuses on the hardware and the development of a functional add-on module for the detection sorting unit that can efficiently detect and separate the digitally watermarked packaging from packaging waste. The prototypes will then be used for the next phases of the (semi-) industrial testing within the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative.
The two machine vendors, Pellenc ST and Tomra, together with the selected digital watermarks technology provider Digimarc, develop in the period of February - November 2021 the add-on modules for their detection sorting units, which will be combined with existing NIR sorters.
The success criteria of this phase will be that the unit is able to detect and sort digitally watermarked packaging of various sizes. The validation of this phase, overlooked by the HolyGrail 2.0 Technical Project Manager, will be based on the selection of 10 digitally watermarked types of packaging which will consist of 3 rigid prints, 3 embossed rigids, 3 flexibles in print and 1 paper based.
Successful completion of Phase 1 will bring the Technical Readiness Level (TRL) to TRL 6 – technology demonstrated in relevant environment.
Phase 2 - Semi-industrial Testing
In order to convert the HG2.0 prototype from proof of concept (Phase 1) to industrial scale, the system is tested for speed, accuracy and detection efficiency during the Phase 2 semi-industrial trials. A software model and identification parameters will be developed and tested for a category specific sorting based on digital watermark detection.
Both developed prototype detection sorting units will be tested at two different test locations that are capable of running semi-industrial trials. The first controlled tests using industrial sized equipment and the Pellenc ST/Digimarc module are scheduled for October 2021 at the ARC (Amager Resource Centre) sorting centre in Copenhagen. The Tomra/Digimarc module will be tested in Germany at the end of 2021 – beginning of 2022.
Successful testing would bring the Technical Readiness Level (TRL) from current TRL 6 – technology demonstrated in relevant environment towards TRL 7 – system prototype demonstration in operational environment and TRL 8 – system complete and qualified.
Phase 3 - Industrial Tests
Pending successful completion of the semi-industrial tests, brand owners and retailers will then bring their enhanced products commercially to the market in three EU countries Denmark, France and Germany. During this industrial test phase, which is planned to kick-off in Q1 2022, the aim is that consumers will buy on-shelf products with digitally watermarked packaging, which after consumption will enter the waste stream.
The functional prototypes developed by Pellenc ST and Tomra will be deployed in a large-scale pilot in commercial sorting and recycling facilities under normal operating conditions with minimal adjustments and optimisation of components. Overall, the detection modules will be placed in five different locations in France and Germany, including MRFs (Materials Recovery Facility), PRFs (Plastic Recovery Facility) and recycling plants. Partners include SUEZ, Indorama, Paprec, Tomra/Borealis/Zimmermann and PreZero. These real-time test runs are to determine the systems reliability to ensure optimum sorting performance. A successful completion of the industrial tests would bring the technology to TRL 9 – actual system proven in operational environment.
This last phase is scheduled to run until Q3 2022 after which the HolyGrail 2.0 Initiative will release a final public report outlining the techno-economic analysis of the digital watermarks technology for sorting of packaging waste. A successful demonstration of the technical and economic viability of the technology would inspire more countries and waste management operators to implement this new sorting technology.
The HolyGrail 2.0 initiative has a clear governance and membership structure based on the HolyGrail 2.0 Charter.
The overall management of the initiative lies with AIM – European Brands Association as project facilitator.
The technical work and coordination is overseen and managed by a Technical Project Manager.
The main funding partner for the (semi-)industrial trials is the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Furthermore, also the City of Copenhagen provides funding and support for the semi-industrial testing phase in Copenhagen.
The elected HolyGrail 2.0 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 work packages that are crucial for the progress of the project.
The Leadership Team - chaired by Procter & Gamble - consists of core members representing each of the sectors engaged in the initiative: brand manufacturers, retailers, material recovery facilities (MRFs), packaging converters, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) organisations and recyclers.
All HolyGrail 2.0 members are encouraged to get involved in the different technical work packages (WPs) of the initiative to contribute with their expertise and knowledge.
The nine different work packages range from field testing and packaging focus groups, to the development of an information management system, the business development analysis and the integration of digital watermarks into existing packaging types.
Each work package is led by a member of the initiative as WP Leader. All technical work is overlooked and supported by the Technical Project Manager.
The Advisory Group is a panel for dialogue, exchange and input into both the operational implementation of key activities and the overall strategy of HolyGrail 2.0. The Advisory Group also provides advice to the Leadership Team, constituting the public policy complement to the cross value chain initiative.
The group is comprised of key stakeholders in the Circular Economy debate, including representatives from NGOs, media, European and national public agencies and other key stakeholders.
The group members are committed to contributing expertise, experience, insights and learnings to support the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative and to promoting the outcome and learnings from the initiative to a broader audience.