Elopak joins HolyGrail 2.0: Pioneering digital technology for smart packaging recycling

In 2020, AIM, the European Brands Association, launched HolyGrail 2.0 – a cross-value chain initiative to improve packaging recycling and drive circular economy goals using pioneering digital watermarks. Elopak is one of over 85 companies from across the packaging value chain to join the initiative inline with our commitment to advancing sustainable solutions through collaboration.

The 85 companies and organisations from packaging industry joined forces with the ambitious goal to assess whether digital technology can enable better sorting and higher-quality recycling rates for packaging in the EU.

The initiative tackles one of the most pressing challenges in achieving a circular economy for packaging. The goal of the industry collaboration is to improve the sorting of post-consumer waste by accurately identifying packaging, resulting in more efficient and higher-quality recycling.

Digital watermarks can potentially revolutionise the way packaging is sorted in the waste management system. The benefits of the new technology were identified under the New Plastics Economy programme of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which investigated innovations to improve recycling.

Digital watermarks are imperceptible codes, the size of a postage stamp, placed on the surface of packaging. They can carry a wide range of information including manufacturer, SKU, type of plastics used and composition for multilayer objects, food vs. non-food usage, etc. Once a package has entered a waste sorting facility, the digital watermark can be detected and decoded by a standard high-resolution camera one the sorting line. Then based on the information contained in the code, the package is put into the correct sorting stream resulting in higher-quality recycling, benefiting the complete packaging value chain.

The New Plastics Economy programme found digital watermarks to be the most promising technology, and with support from stakeholders were able to pass a basic proof of concept on a test sorting line.  The HolyGrail 2.0 initiative is enabling the next steps are being facilitated for this advanced technology which has the potential to revolutionise waste management systems, resulting in more efficient sorting of packaging and higher recovery rates for materials.