METRO joins HolyGrail 2.0: Digital Watermarks for Sustainable Recycling

28 October 2021

METRO joined the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative in July 2021, complementing its work in the area of packaging optimisation and recycling. HolyGrail 2.0 aims at designing and testing a sustainable recycling solution with digital watermarks on product packaging.

Digital watermarks shall decisively improve recycling processes

Part of the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative, a multitude of intelligent codes, so-called digital watermarks, invisible to the human eye and each the size of a stamp, adorn the packaging of products all around and facilitate not only easy scanning at the checkout but also proper recycling. In addition to product and price information, this code can also contain information on the composition of the packaging, recycling and possible reuse. In the future, scanners in recycling centres should be able to recognise the product and feed it into the right processing stream.

A first test of the technology, from product design to sorting, started in Copenhagen in September 2021. In the so-called semi-industrial test, the prototype of a sorting recognition device will be installed at the Amager Resource Center (ARC) in the Danish capital. More than 260 different stock-keeping units (SKUs) will be included in the test. Marked with the digital watermarks, they are to be recognised by the sorting system and sent for appropriate recycling. The test is a first milestone in the development of the prerequisites for more targeted recycling, which should lead to high recycling rates of packaging in the sense of a circular economy. The initiators, organisations and companies behind HolyGrail 2.0 are convinced that the precise identification and sorting of plastic packaging waste using digital watermarks has the potential to revolutionise the sorting and recycling process of plastic packaging and significantly increase the recycling rate.

Over 130 companies and organisations have joined the initiative since its launch in September 2020. HolyGrail 2.0 is driven by AIM, the European Brands Association, and powered by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. It follows the pioneering HolyGrail 1.0 project led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation between 2016 and 2019.

METRO has been a member of the Holy Grail 2.0 initiative since July 2021 and is currently assessing which own-brand product packaging can be phased in. For the international wholesaler, working for and in the initiative is an essential complement to its 2018 Plastic Commitment, which includes a significant reduction in packaging materials and a move towards more sustainable options, as well as a high recyclability of materials and the use of reusable materials. METRO also committed to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy in 2018 with an additional interim target of saving an additional 300 tonnes of plastic packaging by 2023. By the end of the financial year 2019/20, an additional 491 tonnes, almost half a million kilos, of plastic packaging had already been saved, thus exceeding the target ahead of schedule.

In addition, METRO launched the METRO Plastic Initiative in June 2021 together with selected partners and the Canadian social enterprise Plastic Bank. The goal of this multi-year partnership is, on the one hand, to support the work of Plastic Bank. Together with collectors in impoverished coastal regions around the world, the social enterprise fights against the seemingly endless flow of plastic waste into the sea. The collectors are able to secure the livelihood of their families through their work. On the other hand, the wholesaler uses the METRO Plastic Initiative in its local stores and through its various online and offline channels to inform its 16 million professional customers worldwide about the topics of plastic, packaging, use and recycling and to raise their awareness of how to deal with them properly.