Digital watermarks for plastic packaging

With the “HolyGrail 2.0” project, the consumer goods producer Procter & Gamble aims to create better conditions for a recycling economy in the packaging sector. This was explained by the corporation’s packaging expert Gian De Belder in the PackBox Forum at FachPack.

In the “HolyGrail 2.0” project, large companies from the consumer goods, retail and recycling sectors have joined forces to increase the sorting purity of plastic packaging and the sorting efficiency in recycling. This is made possible by the use of digital watermarks.

“As one of the pioneers combining a high degree of sustainability and industrial economies of scale, P&G is powerfully driving the change within its sector towards sustainable use of plastics. In addition to the infrastructure and the involvement of households, low recycling rates are due primarily to poor sorting efficiency. We want to change this with the digital watermark for plastics”, explained Gian De Belder in the PackBox forum at FachPack in front of more than 300 listeners. With this project, the project manager and packaging technologist won the Sustainability Award in the Circular Economy category and as overall winner at FachPack.

Digital watermarks for packaging are codes that are barely perceptible to the human eye and offer major advances over previous sorting technologies. For example, they provide information on what material the packaging is made of and whether food, cosmetics or a detergent or cleaning agent was packaged in it. The stored information can be used throughout the entire value chain – from production to recycling. This ultimately increases the quality and availability of high-quality recyclate.

Goal: by 2030, all packaging will be recyclable or reusable.

“At P&G we aim to have all our packaging worldwide, recyclable or reusable by 2030. In Europe, we are setting ourselves even more ambitious goals. By 2025, all our major packaging platforms will be recyclable. This includes about 95 percent of all packaging materials. In addition, we have committed ourselves worldwide to reducing the use of virgin plastic, in other words plastic from petroleum, in our packaging by 50 percent by 2030. This is an ambitious goal and we expect it to save over 300,000 tons of new petroleum-based plastic worldwide,” adds De Belder.

New packaging planned for Ariel detergent

The company has defined clear goals and is measuring its progress. This soon becomes visible with the major brands. Starting in spring 2020, Ariel will no longer be offering the stock packs of Ariel pods in large-volume packaging, a kind of plastic box, but instead in a material-saving bag. “This will save us 75 percent of the plastic used to date per washing machine load,” said De Belder.

Moreover from December 2019 onwards, OLAY’s cardboard box packages will no longer be wrapped in an additional cellophane film. The new packages will be available in the shops as of January 2020.

Sustainability Agenda “Ambition 2030”

With the sustainability agenda “Ambition 2030”, P&G has defined the essential elements that contribute to anchoring sustainable consumption across society. P&G uses life cycle analyses to determine the actual impact of the brands. In order to improve the lives of people today and those of future generations, P&G assumes responsibility for the sustainable use of its products and accentuates those areas where the leverage for environmental protection is greatest.

In order to achieve the goals of “Ambition 2030”, P&G relies on a functioning circular economy based on the following factors: design for recycling, effective collection systems, informed households, optimized automated sorting systems, use of recycling materials and technical innovations. To promote innovation, P&G is active in various initiatives – the Loop deposit system, which was launched as a pilot project in Paris and New York, means that packaging is no longer turned into waste, but is circulated, i.e. collected, cleaned and refilled after use. The company is working with Fatersmart, a joint venture between P&G and the Angelini Group in Italy, to introduce diaper recycling in at least ten major cities worldwide by 2030. The first plant is located in Treviso, Italy. Another collection is already underway in Amsterdam.

P&G counts on global alliances and partnerships, as well as on national initiatives, to establish and secure closed cycles in plastics recycling. In view of the global challenges, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste is of crucial importance for P&G: “With the Alliance, P&G is investing in the infrastructure for the disposal of plastic waste in those parts of the world where the challenge is greatest.

In Germany, among other things P&G is involved as a partner in the German Sustainability Award and is an initiative member of GeTon, an alliance of companies from the packaging industry, brand manufacturers and retailers as well as Dual Systems and recycling companies aiming to organize an efficient and exemplary recycling economy.

At the same time, P&G wants to increase the use of recycled materials in its products with its own brands. The company reports that it  currently uses the following amounts of post consumer recyclate (PCR) throughout Europe:

  • 50% recyclate in Lenor fabric softener bottles (plastic: PET)
  • 50% recyclate in Unstoppables bottles (plastic: PET)
  • 25% recyclate in Ariel and Lenor detergent bottles (plastic: HDPE)
  • 25% recyclate in Pantene shampoo bottles (plastic: HDPE)
  • 25% recyclate in Head&Shoulders shampoo bottles (plastic: HDPE)
  • 40-100% recyclate in Fairy detergent bottles (plastic: PET)
A packaging expert from Procter & Gamble will also be speaking at the PACKAGING 360° congress in Frankfurt. The independent packaging congress will take place from 28 to 29 November 2019 at the Hilton in Frankfurt am Main.  "Why neither the retail trade nor FMCG can ignore the issue of sustainability in future" will be the topic of a panel discussion in which Jürgen Dornheim, Section Head Corporate Packaging R&D Innovation & Sustainability, at Procter & Gamble, will also be taking part.  More information about the congress program and registration can be found here. 


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