Within the scope of the arburgGREENworld programme, German injection moulding machine manufacturer Arburg collaborating on a number of projects to develop technology aimed at creating a closed-loop economy.
One such project is HolyGrail2.0, a pan-European effort aimed at improving the sorting of post-consumer waste plastic packaging for recycling through the use of digital watermarks. This was based on the idea that once packaging is designed for recycling and the collection systems have been put in place, better sorting is crucial to improving the quality of what enters the recycling stream and ultimately to enabling closed-loop systems.
The initial three-year Holy Grail project, led by Procter & Gamble and facilitated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, was completed last year having established basic proof-of-concept for digital watermarks. Some 29 partners participated in that project, including Arburg.
“As early as the pilot project phase of HolyGrail, we were able to demonstrate the fantastic potential of the digital watermark technology based on the example of IML containers made from mono-material,” said Bertram Stern, Packaging and Circular Economy Manager at Arburg
Digital watermarks are codes the size of postage stamps - not visible to the naked eye - which are applied directly to the surface of a product or to its label. The individual tile patterns are created through micro-topological variations in the carrier material and multiplied to create a graph which resembles a mosaic. They create a ‘digital passport’, a fragment of which is enough to retrieve information about the manufacturer, plastic type, product SKU, food or non-food usage, and composition of multi-layer foils. High-resolution cameras built into sorting equipment read the information from the digital passport. At supermarket checkouts or for end users and consumers, this information is read by scanners or using an app on a mobile device. This technology provides a means of querying all kinds of additional information (including about availability, use or disposal, for example) throughout the entire service life of a product.
Now, with the recent launch of HolyGrail2.0, the project has moved into the next phase under the auspices of the European Brands Association AIM. More than 85 companies and organisations from every stage of the value chain are involved in the project. Of these, Arburg is the only manufacturer of injection moulding machines.
“It is now all about rolling out the project across Europe with the aim of using this technology for the homogenous sorting and separation of plastic packaging on a large scale as well as to facilitate smart and cost-effective recycling,” said Stern.
He added that with the participation of partners such as Beiersdorf, Dow, Henkel, Nestle and Sick, as well as various associations, momentum for the project, which will run through 2022, was growing.
“By working together we will succeed in moving HolyGrail2.0 forward effectively,” said Stern.
Once a packaging concept has been developed, the semi-industrial test phase is scheduled to start in the spring of 2021. As Allrounder injection moulding machines are generally suitable for processing recyclates from household waste or post-industrial scrap, Arburg has already presented and demonstrated a number of examples of possible ways of returning plastics to the circular economy once they have been separated securely into homogenous types. The challenge now is to find ways of upscaling this technology, said Stern.