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What does the ideal recycling cycle look like

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The scarcer raw materials and resources become, the more price-intensive they become. At the same time, customers are becoming increasingly sensitive to issues such as environmental protection and sustainability. As a company, you can use packaging whose materials can be kept in the recycling loop to show that you also value environmental protection and sustainability, and at the same time reduce your costs for packaging licenses.

What are recyclables?

Recyclables are materials that can be reused after their use, broken down into raw materials or transformed into other items. They are recyclable and can therefore remain in the economic cycle.

Recyclable materials include:

  • Paper/cardboard
  • Metals
  • Rare earth metals
  • Cotton
  • Plastics and
  • Glass

What is a cycle of materials?

In nature, all substances are kept in a cycle of life without loss. The recyclable material cycle is based on this. Michael Braungart and William McDonough created the term Cradle to Cradle (C2C) for this.

For your packaging, this means that the materials used for it are reprocessed into raw materials for new packaging, and then used again to make new packaging.

In order to fulfill the recycling principle, however, it is absolutely essential that the recyclable materials are processed according to their type. On the one hand, this guarantees that the new material is similar to the original material, and on the other, that both materials are of the same quality.

First-class examples of the recyclable material cycle are disposable PET bottles, tin cans and glass. Certain types of paper can also be used as examples.

How can I, as a company, keep the materials of my packaging in the recycling loop?

As a company, you have the opportunity to exert a positive influence on the recycling of the materials used by designing your packaging. The inclusion of the subsequent recycling process already serves as a basis during the development of a packaging. This approach is also known as design for recycling.

In addition to functional and design factors, this approach to packaging design also focuses on evaluating recyclability. 

To assess recyclability, questions such as:

  • Are there recycling options for the material to be used?
  • Are there easily noticeable and legible or easily recognizable instructions on the packaging for the consumer on how to dispose of the packaging and, if necessary, how to break it up?
  • Is extreme smallness of the packaging avoided?

Especially in the case of plastic packaging:

  • Is contamination of the surface by adhesives avoided?
  • Are material combinations intended that are incompatible with the recycling process?
  • Are colorings used that allow recycling?

How can I as a company positively influence the recycling cycle for individual materials?

Depending on the type of material, it is difficult or easy to keep it in a cycle after it has been used as packaging. The reason for this is that some materials can be mixed with others without losing their material properties, while others cannot. Glass and aluminum are materials that tolerate a mix of different starting qualities well. Plastics and paper, on the other hand, are more difficult to keep in circulation.


With plastics, it is particularly important to avoid mixing materials. In terms of packaging design, this means that metals, different types of plastic and paper must always be easily separable.

Examples of the mix of materials and possible solutions:

  • Plastic and metal: bottle made of plastic, lid made of metal - The lid and lid seal must be completely separable from the bottle.
  • Plastic and cardboard or paper: cup with paper sleeve - It is essential that the paper sleeve and the adhesive used are applied in such a way that they can be separated from the cup effortlessly and without leaving any residue.
  • Plastics with and without strong colorations: Lightly colored or transparent can with a heavily colored lid - Use a screw thread so that the lid and can can be completely separated.
  • Avoid hinged joints between can and lid.
    Plastics with different polymer structure: packaging with shatterproof shell and strongly elastic lid - Make sure that both packaging components can be completely separated from each other, e.g. by using a plug-in system.


The most common way to recycle waste paper is to separate the cellulose fibers of the paper from the fillers, such as adhesives, by means of water baths. A condition for successful separation is that the fillers are water-soluble. In order to be able to keep the cellulose from the paper used for your packaging in the recyclable material cycle, it is therefore important that any coatings are made exclusively with water-soluble substances. For example, foiling or coatings for moisture protection should be avoided.


Glass is separated from foreign materials such as metal, paper and plastic in several stages before it can be recycled. Both mechanical and manual processes are used.

For you as a company, this means that you are freer to choose the information carriers on your packaging when using glass. Nevertheless, we recommend that you use it sparingly even in this case, because although paper and plastics can be rubbed off the previously produced glass fragments and the glass can thus be kept in the recyclable material cycle, this means on the one hand a high sorting effort and on the other hand that the substances produced as abrasion are not sorted by paper and plastic and are thus removed from the recyclable material cycle. Only metals can be sorted from the glass waste on the basis of their magnetic properties.


Tinplate is, together with glass, the material most suitable for recycling. Tinplate belongs to the steel material type. Since it is rolled out very thinly, it does not immediately appear to be just that. Depending on the new end product, it is melted down in an electric steel mill or processed with pig iron in an oxygen steel mill to produce new steel. Paint, plastic and paper residues are completely incinerated in this process and are part of the slag produced after tinplate recycling.

Our customer service at zmart will be happy to take the time to check with you whether the packaging materials you use can be separated well from each other

Conclusion: The key to successful recyclability is sustainable packaging design.

Help consumers keep packaging materials in the recyclable cycle. To do this, avoid combinations of materials that are difficult to separate and use the packaging to convey recycling information.


New raw materials become new packaging, which becomes waste after use and then becomes raw material again for new packaging - this is a very simple description of the materials cycle.


Packaging belongs on store shelves just like the products themselves. But as a rule, they are only needed for a short time. Consumers then dispose of them as waste. In view of the energy and materials used in production, this seems like a gigantic waste of resources.

The legislator sees it the same way. For this reason, the Packaging Act (VerpackG) demands and promotes the use of materials that can be kept in the material cycle.

With the design of your packaging, you can have a positive influence on the responsible use of resources and save money at the same time. Make sure that your packaging can be recycled without any problems.


At zmart, you can not only license the packaging material at a reasonable price and in a legally secure manner, but we can also advise you on all questions concerning packaging design and the ideal use of materials with a view to the ideal recycling cycle.