Design for Recycling, Circular Economy, Recycling, Sustainability, Trend, Innovation, Product Innovation

HolyGrail 2.0: Making sorting easier with digital watermarks

03/11/2020 | 3 min read
Alisa Schröer

In the packaging market and in Europe’s sorting facilities, digital watermarks will play an essential role in enhancing future recycling capabilities. As a proud partner of the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative, led by the European Brands Association (AIM), Greiner Packaging is promoting the use of digital watermarks on the decorative elements of various packaging systems. Work is currently underway on the development of smart K3® packaging solutions, which make the sorting process easier in the relevant facilities and unlock new opportunities in the digital transformation space. By collaborating with watermarking specialists Digimarc and Filigrade, the aim going forward is to bring intelligent packaging solutions to full market readiness. These should, in turn, ultimately lead to substantial improvements in the quality of the resulting recycled materials.

Digital watermark pioneers

Under the auspices of AIM, more than 85 well-known companies from all stages of the packaging value chain have joined forces. Together, they are seeking to advance digital technologies that simplify the sorting of used materials and facilitate higher-quality packaging recycling. These efforts are aimed at fostering a more effective circular economy in the EU over the long term. As part of the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative, brand manufacturers are now entering the next phase – with activities extending the length of the value chain and an expanded project scope. This includes sampling projects run within the industry to test out the feasibility of digital watermarking technologies and demonstrate their potential.

Trials with digital watermarks on K3® cups

The first digital watermarks incorporated within decorative elements are now in the development stage. They are currently being tested in one of Greiner Packaging’s flagship projects in close collaboration with digital watermark specialists Digimarc and Filigrade. In particular, efforts are focused on making adjustments to the decorative artwork to ensure that the digital watermarks are placed on the packaging as discreetly as possible without affecting the packaging design. The codes – which are the size of a postage stamp – are indeed unnoticeable on the packaging surface at first glance. Yet they can still communicate a whole range of essential information about the attributes of the packaging, from the manufacturer, the waste management system, the article number, the types of plastic contained, and the composition of multilayer packaging solutions through details regarding the packaging product’s use in the food or nonfood sector. Any and all decoration technologies can potentially incorporate digital watermarks, including direct printing, IML, and sleeves.


In the future, when used packaging is collected and sent to a sorting system that recognizes the digital watermark, the system will be able to detect and decode it on the sorting belt using a standard high-resolution camera. Depending on the attributes communicated by the watermark, the packaging can then be automatically directed to the right sorting stream, which would allow for more homogeneous streams and higher-quality recycled materials – in turn, benefiting every link in the value chain. This can only occur if the sorting facilities are equipped with the appropriate innovative technologies, which are also currently in development. As well as communicating packaging information, the digital watermarks also have the potential to be used in other areas, whether to promote consumer engagement, demonstrate transparency in supply chains, or run retail promotions.

We’re constantly on the lookout for more opportunities and partnerships, such as our current work with AIM on digital watermarks. We’re already able to incorporate these into packaging materials, which is something we’re eager to put to the test as part of the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative. And we’re also focusing on new business models – not only aimed at collection and infrastructure, but also in terms of multiple use and packaging as a service.

Alisa Schröer, Circular Economy Project Manager, Greiner Packaging

Three key factors, one common goal

Innovation, sustainability, and digital transformation are three factors that intersect closely within HolyGrail 2.0 when it comes to pursuing the ultimate goal of the European Green Deal: a clean, circular, and climate-neutral economy. As work on the initiative continues, the enthusiasm of an entire industry is palpable as market players pool their expertise along the length of the packaging value chain – from brand, retailers, and converters to EPR systems, waste disposal systems, and recycling companies. Close and fully committed collaboration is the right (and only) way to achieve the European objectives for a well-functioning circular economy.


Find out more about the HolyGrail 2.0 digital watermarks initiative

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