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Building an Open Intelligent Sorting Ecosystem for a Circular Economy in Europe

Press release for immediate release – Brussels, 4 July 2024 – The European Union has ambitious goals to achieve a Circular Economy, which requires profound transformation and adaptation across the consumer goods ecosystem. To accomplish this, the consumer goods industry has spearheaded innovation with initiatives across many dimensions, both within own operations and across a complex ecosystem. One such initiative is HolyGrail 2.0, which aims to address one of the biggest challenges – digitising post-consumer packaging waste sorting processes, built on an open and interoperable system, to enable circularity.


The HolyGrail 2.0 Initiative – facilitated by AIM, the European Brands Association and powered by AEPW, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste – is focused on revolutionising the way (plastic) packaging is sorted to unlock the potential of accurate sorting at scale. By 1 January 2030, all plastic packaging on the European Union market must be recyclable. It is therefore essential to transform the entire ecosystem to enable this and, in so doing, design an open architecture that will enhance the post-consumer waste sorting process.   


GS1 in Europe has been a crucial partner in developing the data management vision of this open architecture, in collaboration with HG2.0 stakeholders across the packaging value chain – brand owners, retailers, packaging suppliers, waste management operators, recyclers, as well as technology and machine providers.

The importance of one common language for interoperability

Improving sorting efficiency, no matter the scale, can only be achieved by ensuring that each stakeholder across the entire circular chain speaks the same unified language and uses the same open standards. This is why GS1 has been involved from the start, drawing on its extensive history of developing open standards to lead the workstream on Data Management. The application of the GS1 principles has been instrumental in safeguarding against vendor lock-in scenarios and maintaining openness to both new technologies and stakeholders.


10 billion times a day

A common denominator has been defined – it was necessary to find a single identifier that does not require the ecosystem to reinvent the wheel and that is already commonly used across many sectors. This already exists, as the most well-known standard of GS1, the GTIN, is scanned no less than 10 billion times a day! We take pride in the approval of the GTIN as the identifier for the upcoming go-to-market plans for HolyGrail 2.0.

Open Intelligent Sorting Ecosystem

And thus, through the application of open standards, the selection of a common identifier, and interoperable data exchange concepts, came the question of roles & responsibilities.

Establishing the roles & responsibilities of each stakeholder in a complex value chain has proven to be a pivotal step in our strategic thinking process. Ultimately, its results guarantee that each stakeholder in the entire chain understands and is aligned with its boundaries and accountabilities.

With this final piece of the puzzle, the basis for an open architecture has been securely established, building on the valuable contributions of the participating experts in HolyGrail 2.0. This Open Architecture ensures every relevant technology provider that can contribute to intelligent sorting.


The mission of HolyGrail 2.0 continues, with many valuable lessons learnt along the way. In parallel – and beyond HolyGrail 2.0 – the development of an Open, Standardised, and Interoperable Architecture has started. We firmly believe this Architecture will streamline future engagements with new stakeholders, but also spark innovation and competition, as well as lay down a solid foundation for an Open Intelligent Sorting Ecosystem.

Ultimately, this will lead to the fulfilment of the HolyGrail 2.0 Initiative and GS1’s common goal of achieving a Circular Economy for packaging.


PR contact details

AIM – European Brands Association: Margherita Trombetti,

GS1 Belgium and Luxembourg: Kai-Wing So,

About Digital Watermarks Initiative 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.


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