P&G-Led HolyGrail Project Earns top Honours at Packaging Europe's Sustainability Awards

The multi-company collaborative venture also wins ‘Driving the Circular Economy’ category

Winners of the world’s most prestigious competition for sustainable packaging innovation were announced in Nuremberg on Sept 25th. The P&G-led HolyGrail pioneering project won both the Overall Sustainability Awards 2019 trophy along with honours for ‘Driving the Circular Economy’ category.

HolyGrail is a collaborative effort designed to solve one of the largest obstacles facing plastic recycling – inefficient sorting at recycling facilities. In 2016, P&G’s sustainable packaging expert Gian deBelder kicked off a coalition of companies to pioneer HolyGrail in Europe under the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Pioneering Projects mantle. The project investigated how tagging of packages can have a drastic impact on more accurate sorting and high-quality recycling via tracers and digital watermarks embedded in the plastic. Improved sorting can improve both the quality and quantity of recycled material on the market, which would mean more plastics go back to the marketplace and bring value instead of becoming waste. This week P&G and the HolyGrail pioneering project was recognised for these efforts amidst a crowded field of worthy contenders in Packaging Europe’s Sustainability Awards 2019 for “Overall Winner” as well as “Driving the Circular Economy” award.


Over the past three years, P&G and its coalition partners have invested expertise and resources in the Holy Grail project to devise a more consistent and scalable tagging system across all packages. Traditionally, each company has used its own unique markings to identify the recycling potential of packaging. This system caused delays in recycling progress and confusion on how best to reinvent waste. Project HolyGrail sought to solve this problem by paving the way for “intelligent sorting” at recycling facilities.

Project Leader Gian deBelder said, “Low recycling rates in EU are mainly related to low collection numbers and low sorting efficiencies. Project HolyGrail looked into different technologies to improve the latter. Packaging can be made intelligent through the use of Digital Watermarks, without having an impact on established recycling streams (e.g. no battery, no metallic wires, etc are needed to make them smart).

“During this project, the concept of an add-on module onto an existing sorter has been successfully proven. This now opens a variety of possibilities today not feasible with standard sorting technologies. It has been a great three years of leading this true full-value chain project and I want to thank all members that contributed to the successful proof-of-concept of this industry-first new sorting technology.”

Project HolyGrail proved the value of tracer and digital watermark technologies, a crucial step in determining the best direction for establishing a universal method for faster processing and better results. By working with dozens of companies across the whole value chain, including machine vendors, technology providers, material producers, packaging manufacturers, brands, retailers and recyclers, the HolyGrail project was able to use the technologies in tests, making progress toward the entire industry establishing and adhering to a standardised method.


The work is not over, and HolyGrail 2.0 is already underway, continuing to work across the industry to put these technologies into practice across more packages and more recycling facilities for improved sorting and ultimately, less waste in our environment.

P&G is passionate about not only the creation of innovative products and packaging, but also ensuring the sustainability of its products and continued support for the circular economy. One of P&G’s Ambition 2030 environmental sustainability goals is to ensure 100 percent of its packaging is recyclable or reusable. With programs like HolyGrail, P&G goes a step further by coming together across the industry and helping ensure recycling technology is also evolving to be more effective and respond to increased demands.

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