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 160 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, 160+ 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 3rd project year (January 2023 – December 2023)
Associate membership – open to all stakeholders from the packaging value chain / 3.000 EUR for 3rd project year (January 2023 – December 2023)
HolyGrail 2.0 Charter – outlining the governance and membership structure, meeting and voting rules as well as the anti-trust statement
For further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 aim is that the validated prototypes will be used for the (semi-) industrial tests within the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative.
The success criteria of this phase consists in the units' ability to detect and sort digitally watermarked packaging of various sizes. The validation of this phase, overlooked by the HolyGrail 2.0 Technical Project Management, is 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.
The machine vendor Pellenc ST, together with the selected digital watermarks technology provider Digimarc, developed the first add-on module for their detection sorting unit, combining digital watermarks detection with existing NIR sorters. The prototype detection sorting unit was successfully validated in September 2021, achieving a >95% ejection rate.
The second prototype detection sorting unit, developed by machine vendor Tomra and Digimarc, was successfully validated in April 2022, achieving a >95% ejection rate.
Successful completion of Phase 1 brings 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 was tested for speed, accuracy and detection efficiency during the Phase 2 semi-industrial trials. A software model and identification parameters was developed and tested for a category specific sorting based on digital watermark detection.
Both developed prototype detection sorting units were tested at two different test locations that are capable of running semi-industrial trials. The semi-industrial tests of the Pellenc ST/Digimarc prototype started in October 2021 at the Amager Resource Center in Copenhagen. The purpose was to evaluate the technology by replicating real-world industrial conditions. For four months, comprehensive sets of tests were successfully performed on approximately 125,000 pieces of packaging from 260 stock-keeping units (SKUs). Validation tests commenced in January 2022 at the headquarters of Pellenc ST. Consistent high results across all tested categories of plastic packaging material of 99% detection, 95% ejection and 95% purity rates, on average, demonstrated an impressive performance of the first prototype. Similarly, the Tomra/Digimarc prototype detection sorting unit