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The Circular Plastic Taskforce partners with Digimarc to optimize sortation of flexible packaging

June 10, 2022  By PrintAction Staff

The Circular Plastic Taskforce (CPT) partners with Digimarc Corporation, creator of watermarks for digital identification and detection, to test Digimarc Recycle, a digital watermark, for optimizing the sortation of flexible plastic packaging in Canada, a first in North America.

This project marks the start of Phase II of the CPT, which aims to carry out or support projects to improve the recycling of all plastic packaging within the evolving Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) landscape in Quebec and Canada.

Digimarc Recycle watermarks are applied within the package artwork without requiring special inks or print processes, and are visible to specialized sorting equipment, but imperceptible to consumers. The watermarks, when scanned by machine cameras, connect to a cloud-based database containing unlimited (and extensible) characteristics of the package, such as the manufacturer and specific product, prior use (food versus non-food), additives or the presence of components that are problematic for recycling. As such, it can help facilitate flexible packaging sortation.


“We are thrilled to launch such a forward-looking project and get our Phase II underway,” says the Circular Plastics Taskforce Steering Committee. “The results from our Phase I study show that even if flexible plastic packaging represents a significant portion of plastic packaging used in Quebec and Canada, their recovery rates remain low. One of the reasons is that today’s sortation equipment cannot distinguish between mono-material recyclable packaging and multi-material structures, therefore lowering bale quality. We believe Digimarc Recycle can help solve this challenge.”

“We are excited to bring Digimarc Recycle to North America and to help the Circular Plastic Taskforce achieve their circularity-driven objectives,” adds Emily Stolarcyk, sustainability program director for business development at Digimarc Corporation. “Digimarc’s digital watermarks, a key component of Digimarc Recycle, have proven to be a truly innovative way to correctly identify each unique package. Connecting watermarks to an extensible database of product and packaging attributes ensures we can help enable a more circular economy now and in the future. This will benefit facilities and brands in meeting their recycling goals, in both the increase of volume and the purity of recycled material.”

The first part of the project consists of testing the ability of specialized optical sorters to adequately capture flexible packaging with digital watermarks in a controlled environment. This test will be performed at the Pellenc ST R&D Center in Pertuis, France, with various flexible packaging samples manufactured by Balcan Innovations, TC Transcontinental (co-founder of CPT) and Winpak. Following the results of this initial test, the second part of the project, which should begin in 2023, will aim at testing this solution in a real-life environment and at a much larger scale, with the goal of producing film bales meeting the high-quality specifications of recyclers. To do so, specialized sorting equipment will be installed in sorting centres and recyclers in Quebec and Ontario to capture flexible packaging with digital watermarking put on the market by CPT’s retail and brand partners.

The project also seeks to confirm the effectiveness of Digimarc Recycle to provide traceability of packaging. Traceability is a prerequisite to produce food-grade recycled resin and will be key to comply with upcoming regulations that will be implemented to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastics.

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