PepsiCo trials digital watermark to facilitate recycling in EU

18 Sep 2020

To help tackle the looming issue of waste management in the European Union, PepsiCo is partnering with a consortium of 85 industry stakeholders and the European Brands Association (AIM) to pilot a digital watermark technology aimed at making recycling more efficient.

In addition to improving the sortability of containers through digital watermarks encoded with information about the manufacturer, product and material type, PepsiCo is looking at the possibility of introducing this technology as a means to add transparency to supply chains, retail operations and consumer engagement.

PepsiCo trials digital watermark to facilitate recycling in EU
Photo Courtesy of the European Brands Association

This partnership of dozens of food and beverage industry companies is piloting this program with the intention of increasing the volume of packaging that is properly recycled. In Europe, only 42% of plastic packaging is recycled, according to Plastics Recyclers Europe. To increase that percentage, this imperceptible watermark will appear on a package for detection by high-resolution cameras on waste sorting lines before the information that is stored is decoded and the package is directed into the appropriate waste stream.

The project has been dubbed “HolyGrail 2.0” and was first brought to the company’s attention through the New Plastics Economy program at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The initiative quickly earned the attention of AIM along with companies, including Arla Foods, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Mondelez International, Nestlé and Unilever.

However, rolling out this technology in a widespread fashion will require this consortium of companies to modify their packaging, an expensive undertaking. While it will be a financial investment for companies, it is also one that aligns with the myriad of sustainability promises that have appeared in recent years from food and beverage manufacturers. PepsiCo has a goal of making 100% of its packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.

With these goals in mind, this network of major industry players is working collaboratively rather than competitively to find and develop industrial-scale solutions for recycling. “The three key ingredients here are innovation, sustainability and digital, combined to achieve the objective of the Green Deal towards a clean, circular and climate neutral economy,” Michelle Gibbons, Director General at AIM said in a release.

PepsiCo and its peers are currently evaluating how to scale this solution to an industrial level and incorporated manufactures from across the EU into the project.

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