Circular Economy, Sustainability, Recycling

Interview: Holy Grail 2.0 Update

28/09/2023 | 2 min read
Fabian Grabner

Digital watermarks are invisible to the human eye, yet they contain a wealth of information. They will play a key role in the packaging industry and Europe’s sorting facilities in the future, especially when it comes to improving recyclability.  

The HolyGrail 2.0 Digital Watermarks Initiative, supported by more than 160 well-known companies including Greiner Packaging, the ALDI SOUTH Group and ALDI North Group, is driven by the European Brands Association (AIM) and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. The goal of the joint effort is to prove that digital watermarking technologies can be used for the accurate sorting of post-consumer packaging waste on a large scale. The project is divided into three phases. In the first phase, a prototype watermark detection system was developed. In the second phase, semi-industrial sampling and testing were carried out – leading to very promising results. 

In the third phase of the initiative, Greiner Packaging is cooperating with the ALDI SOUTH Group and the ALDI North Group. The aim is for digital watermarks to prove their potential under real market conditions. Commercial products will be trialled in three test markets: Denmark, Germany, and France.  

Here is what Fabian Grabner, Greiner Packaging Global Product Group Manager and Richard Gorman, Director of International Sustainability at the ALDI South Group – both project leaders for the Holy Grail 2.0 initiative in their companies – share about the initiative, the future of digital watermarks and the results coming from phase three. 

Fabian: What is your motivation to participate in HolyGrail 2.0 initiative? 

Richard: ALDI SOUTH believes in the value and effectiveness of digital watermarks to be an innovative technology for sorting and recycling. If the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative succeeds in proving the feasibility of digital watermarking technology for accurate sorting, it will be a turning point for the global packaging value chain. We saw that we could contribute to HolyGrail 2.0 by bringing some watermarked own-brand products to market. Consumers can buy these products, which will then enter the waste stream.  

Fabian: What results are you expecting from Holy Grail 2.0 phase three? 

Richard: We would like to see results prove that the technology works and is reliable when implemented in real market conditions. If this happens, I hope everyone in the industry is motivated to start utilizing the technology and increasing the number of products in more markets.  

Fabian: Please explain the process of phase three from your company’s point of view: 

Richard: I can’t stress enough how collaboration along the value chain is fundamental to the success of phase three. ALDI is always looking for opportunities to support better waste management; however, we recognize that we are a retailer, not a tech company. By working closely with Greiner Packaging and Digimarc, we can couple their tech ‘know how’ with ALDI SOUTH’s and ALDI Nord’s ability to place high volumes of products on multiple marketplaces. A successful phase three will act as a great proof of concept so that we can continue to work closely with our Buying Teams to ensure we are able to increase the use of digital watermarks.  

Fabian: Which packaging products will you be taking into the test markets? 

Richard: Together with Greiner Packaging, we were able to watermark 18 different packaging designs, including various flavors of our “MILSANI” yoghurts. 

Fabian: Are the results of phase three likely to influence new product development? 

Richard: If the results prove to be positive, we hope to extend the use of digital watermarks to more products across different product portfolios. The challenge is that even if ALDI added digital watermarks to all of our products, it would still only be a small part of the global retail market. To really succeed, we need everyone to recognize the value and how it can support a circular way of managing waste.  

Fabian: What are the benefits digital watermarks hold for ALDI’s customers? 

Richard: Currently, this technology is untapped for customers; nevertheless, I think that digital watermarks have great potential in offering ALDI customers the reassurance that when they buy our products, they know that they are supporting the reduction of unwanted waste and recycling. 

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