Innovation Story

16 Apr 2021

Pioneering digital watermarks for smart packaging to take recycling in the EU to new heights

How a new technology pioneered across the value chain has the potential to drive circular economy goals

Over 85 companies and organisations across the packaging value chain, including several EUROPEN members, joined forces in September 2020 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 result of this collaboration is HolyGrail 2.0, a cross-value chain initiative facilitated by AIM, the European Brands Association, that will include the launch of an industrial pilot in order to prove the viability of digital watermarks technologies for more accurate sorting of packaging and higher-quality recycling, as well as the business case at large scale.

What are digital watermarks and why are they important?

Digital watermarks are imperceptible codes, the size of a postage stamp, covering the surface of a consumer goods packaging. They can carry a wide range of attributes such as manufacturer, SKU, type of plastics used and composition for multilayer objects, food vs. non-food usage, etc. 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 – is able to sort the packaging into corresponding streams. This would result in better and more accurate sorting streams, and thus consequently in higher-quality recyclates, benefiting the complete packaging value chain. Next to this "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.

Discover more about digital watermarks and HolyGrail 2.0 here