P&G is pleased to support AIM, the European Brands Association as they bring together over 85 companies and organizations from the complete packaging value chain 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. P&G’s own Gian DeBelder is providing leadership for this important program and P&G brands will support the next phase of the program. P&G established and has led HolyGrail 1.0 Pioneer Project under New Plastics Economy (2016-2019) resulting in proof-of-concept on a protype machine, and we are now moving to the next phase (under AIM’s leadership), with the vision to prove industrial feasibility via this National Test market.
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 standard high-resolution camera on the sorting line, which then – based on the transferred attributes – is able to sort the packaging into corresponding streams.
One of the most pressing challenges in achieving a circular economy for packaging is to better sort post-consumer waste by accurately identifying packaging, resulting in more efficient and higher-quality recycling. Digital watermarks may have the potential to revolutionize the way packaging is sorted in the waste management system, as it opens new possibilities that are currently not feasible with existing technologies. The discovery was made under the New Plastics Economy program of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which investigated different innovations to improve post-consumer recycling. Digital watermarks were found to be the most promising technology, gathering support among the majority of stakeholders and passing a basic proof of concept on a test sorting line. The branded goods industry has now stepped in to facilitate the next phase as cross-value chain initiative under the name “HolyGrail 2.0”, which will take place on a much greater scale and scope. This 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.
For more about the HolyGrail project and what P&G is doing to address the challenge of plastic waste, see the fact sheet below. Also find more information at Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0.
P&G-LED HOLYGRAIL PROJECT EARNS TOP HONORS AT PACKAGING EUROPE’S SUSTAINABILITY AWARDS
The multi-company collaborative venture also wins ‘Driving the Circular Economy’ category
Winners of the world’s most prestigious competition for sustainable packaging innovation were announced in Nuremberg on Sept 25th. The P&G-led HolyGrail pioneering project won both the Overall Sustainability Awards 2019 trophy along with honors for ‘Driving the Circular Economy’ category.
HolyGrail is a collaborative effort designed to solve one of the largest obstacles facing plastic recycling – inefficient sorting at recycling facilities. In 2016, P&G’s sustainable packaging expert Gian deBelder kicked off a coalition of companies to pioneer HolyGrail in Europe under the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Pioneering Projects mantle. The project investigated how tagging of packages can have a drastic impact on more accurate sorting and high-quality recycling via tracers and digital watermarks embedded in the plastic. Improved sorting can improve both the quality and quantity of recycled material on the market, which would mean more plastics go back to the marketplace and bring value instead of becoming waste. This week P&G and the HolyGrail pioneering project was recognized for these efforts amidst a crowded field of worthy contenders in Packaging Europe’s Sustainability Awards 2019 for “Overall Winner” as well as “Driving the Circular Economy” award.
Over the past three years, P&G and its coalition partners have invested expertise and resources in the Holy Grail project to devise a more consistent and scalable tagging system across all packages. Traditionally, each company has used its own unique markings to identify the recycling potential of packaging. This system caused delays in recycling progress and confusion on how best to reinvent waste. Project HolyGrail sought to solve this problem by paving the way for “intelligent sorting” at recycling facilities.
Project Leader Gian deBelder said, “Low recycling rates in EU are mainly related to low collection numbers and low sorting efficiencies. Project HolyGrail looked into different technologies to improve the latter. Packaging can be made intelligent through the use of Digital Watermarks, without having an impact on established recycling streams (e.g. no battery, no metallic wires, etc are needed to make them smart).
“During this project, the concept of an add-on module onto an existing sorter has been successfully proven. This now opens a variety of possibilities today not feasible with standard sorting technologies. It has been a great three years of leading this true full-value chain project and I want to thank all members that contributed to the successful proof-of-concept of this industry-first new sorting technology.”
Project HolyGrail proved the value of tracer and digital watermark technologies, a crucial step in determining the best direction for establishing a universal method for faster processing and better results. By working with dozens of companies across the whole value chain, including machine vendors, technology providers, material producers, packaging manufacturers, brands, retailers and recyclers, the HolyGrail project was able to use the technologies in tests, making progress toward the entire industry establishing and adhering to a standardized method.
The work is not over, and HolyGrail 2.0 is already underway, continuing to work across the industry to put these technologies into practice across more packages and more recycling facilities for improved sorting and ultimately, less waste in our environment.
P&G is passionate about not only the creation of innovative products and packaging, but also ensuring the sustainability of its products and continued support for the circular economy. One of P&G’s Ambition 2030 environmental sustainability goals is to ensure 100 percent of its packaging is recyclable or reusable. With programs like HolyGrail, P&G goes a step further by coming together across the industry and helping ensure recycling technology is also evolving to be more effective and respond to increased demands.