Digital watermark for smart packaging recycling

Even though it contributes only 5% to the total pollution generated in the production cycle, packaging thrown into nature is a reminder that it is the last moment to take serious actions that will run effective packaging and packaging waste circular economy.

The biggest challenge is the efficient collection, sorting, and recovery of packaging waste. That will not be possible without the precise identification of packaging material.

The good news is that this has been seriously worked on since 2016 through the HolyGrail 1.0 and HolyGrail 2.0 Intelligent Sorting projects. The goal of the project is to prove the technical and economic viability of using digital watermarks on packaging for the accurate detection and classification of packaging waste.

How does it work?

Digital watermarks, developed by Digimarc Corporation, are invisible codes each the size of a postage stamp that covers the entire packaging surface. They can carry a wide range of attributes such as packaging type, material, usage, and many others. Existing pixels are used for watermarks creation, not printed with special colors or additional printing is required.

Used packaging is collected and scanned on the sorting line with a high-resolution camera that detects and decodes the digital watermark. The packaging is then sorted into corresponding streams, based on specified attributes including food, non-food, or polymer types. This leads to more accurate sorting streams and higher quality recyclates to be channeled back into the plastic packaging value chain.

The device will recognize even small parts of the packaging material in case the packaging is damaged or shredded.

Previous tests of software and prototypes of waste separation units have proven the functionality of the solution with very high percentages of efficiency – 99% identification, 95% separation, 95% purity of the separated sample.

EU directives are coming soon

New directives will impose new obligations for EU members, and it will happen soon. It will be necessary to decide and determine the direction in which the issue of the circular economy of packaging will be resolved. Having relevant information and knowledge will be extremely important. However, Croatia already has a representative among the source of information.

Kaligraf, as a strategic partner of Linked2Brands/Janoschka, is included through this cooperation in the Holygrail 2.0 project. Linked2Brands /Janoschka is an active participant in the project and a certified partner for the application of Digimarc solutions.

Therefore, we can say that we readily expect directives that will improve the process of packaging and packaging waste management and accelerate the establishment of the circle of the packaging economy.