Intelligent packaging could be the Holy Grail for innovations towards the environment

There is a new environmental initiative that has hit the Food & Beverage industry of the EU, and its name is Holy Grail 2.0. Currently in September 2020, there are 85+ brands that have pledged to implement the Holy Grail project, some of which include F&B giants Pepsico, Henkel, Heineken, and Dr. Oetker.

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What is Holy Grail 2.0? Let’s dive in to learn more.

About the project

Facilitated by the European Brands Association (AIM), the Holy Grail 2.0 is a pioneer project that focuses on improving recycling standards and practices. The project’s predecessor is the HolyGrail which was a research initiative conducted between 2016-2019 that was aimed at determining which methods could be used to carry out this goal. Now, in 2020, the commission has decided upon the use of “digital watermarks” to improve the accuracy of package sorting in recycling facilities – thus sparking the birth of Holy Grail 2.0.

In regards to the project, AIM’s director Michelle Gibbons said, “The three ingredients here are innovation, sustainability and digital, combined to achieve the objective of the Green Deal towards a clean, circular and climate neutral economy.”

What are digital watermarks and why are they important?

The problem

Before we can understand what digital watermarks are, it is perhaps better to understand what the initial problem was for this test case. Four years ago, when the HolyGrail initiative was first conceptualized, it was clear to those leading the commission that poor recycling of packages was contributing significantly to growing environmental concerns.

Beyond consumer influence, product packaging that was brought to sorting facilities after consumers had recycled, was not being sorted correctly so that many pieces had to be discarded. As this was counterproductive to the whole purpose of recycling, scientists and producers had to find a solution. The answer? Digital watermarks.

The solution

Digital watermarks are codes the size of postage stamps embedded in the product packaging that can be scanned upon arrival to the sorting facility. These codes are invisible and exist beneath the “layer” that consumers see on the shelf.

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The goal is that when the package arrives in the facility after being recycled by consumers and picked up by garbage collectors, these watermarks will be able to tell a specific story about its particular package.

This “story” includes details such as the package’s:

  • Manufacturer
  • SKU
  • The composition and type of plastic contained within the package
  • Whether this package was related to food or non-food usage

With these details, among other attributes, the high quality scan of a camera at the sorting facility could determine which stream or belt the package should be put on for proper recycling. The result is better recycling that would lead to the creation of high quality recyclates that benefits the packaging value chain so that plastics can be reused instead of wasted.

This is the purpose of the Holy Grail 2.0 project: to create a circular economy that takes useful plastics and continuously repurposes them so that they stay in brand production and out of the environment.

Towards a better future

Still in its pilot stage, there is much to learn with the Holy Grail 2.0 initiative, but in good ways.

Of course, the aim is to learn more about how corporations and recycling facilities can be responsible about the environment because the current state is not a very reputable one. The hope is that with this initiative, accurate recycling on behalf of these constituents will contribute to the help that the environment and the European Green Deal are currently asking for.

Along with these sustainability advantages, there is also potential for improvement in the supply chain management process and even consumer engagement. Though the digital watermarks cannot be seen with the human eye, the invisible codes can be detected by simple smartphone cameras, which could provide a plethora of information about product packaging such as its origins or instructions as to how the consumer should handle the material.

The bottom line is that with an innovation as great as this one, progress can be made in the F&B industry. Though Holy Grail 2.0 is still quite young, it has garnered much support across food producers and associations who have pledged to be members – and there is still room for the membership to grow.

2020-09-22T11:46:28+02:00Food & Compliance|
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