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Logo HolyGrail 2.0 – Intelligent Sorting

HolyGrail 2.0 – Precise Coding Means Better Recycling

Can intelligent packaging labeling influence the accuracy of sorting and recycling systems in such a way that we achieve a circular economy for packaging in the EU?


This is the question being addressed by the Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0


The pilot project aims to prove the added value of digital watermarking technologies for accurate sorting and consequently higher quality recycling at scale. It is driven by AIM - European Brands Association and powered by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW). In addition to the Schwarz Group, more than 160 other companies and organizations along the entire value chain are involved. Together with our partners, we are also working as part of the steering committee of HolyGrail 2.0 to successfully implement this lighthouse project for even better recycling cycles.


The idea behind HolyGrail 2.0: packaging labeling should optimize the accuracy of sorting and recycling systems


The core idea of the project is to create a solution for one of the central problems in the recycling of plastic packaging: a high-quality separation of very heterogeneous waste streams that is as pure as possible. 


The intelligent waste sorting used in the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative is capable, for example, of identifying previously unrecognized or misallocated material (such as black plastic, bottles with full-body sleeves), sorting out non-recyclable packaging (for example multilayer packaging) and even forming entirely new recyclable material fractions.


All of this is accomplished with the help of digital watermarks: Imperceptible codes the size of a postage stamp that cover the surface of a package and can carry a variety of attributes.


Once packaging enters a waste sorting facility, the digital watermark will be detected and decoded by a standard high-resolution camera at the sorting facility, which will then be able to sort the packaging into the appropriate streams based on the transmitted attributes (e.g., food vs. non-food packaging). There are also benefits for consumers, as the invisible code can be read using a smartphone app to provide additional digital information, such as separation and disposal instructions for the packaging.

HolyGrail 2.0 Digital Watermarks

Overall, thanks to the more precise identification of (plastic) packaging triggered by HolyGrail 2.0, waste could be better sorted and the quality of recycling increased – a decisive step toward a functioning circular economy.