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Packaging recycling: New minimum standards for recyclability


Evaluation of the recyclability


The packaging sector does not stand still. On the contrary, this is an area in which new innovations are constantly being made. For this reason, the ability to recycle packaging is also subject to regular evaluation. 

This is necessary because the payments to be made are based on how high the recyclability is. Accordingly, the 'Foundation Central Packaging Register' (ZSVR) has been publishing new minimum standards every year on September 1 since 2019. They specify how recyclability is to be measured.

So, the standards are a valuable tool for both steering packaging design towards better overall recyclability at all levels, and rewarding the production and use of such sustainably engineered designs.

With the 2021 edition in accordance with Section 21 (3) of the German Packaging Act (VerpackG), the third edition of the minimum standard has now been published by the ZSVR with the backing of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).



The basis of all efforts in this regard on the part of the ZSVR and the UBA is to create a fair, transparent and, above all, easily understandable standard by which the recyclability of packaging subject to system participation can be objectively evaluated.

To this end, the assessment is based on whether the recyclable content of a packaging available for recycling meets at least three requirements. They represent the core of the new edition of the minimum standards.

Referring back to the official wording of the minimum standards, these three requirements include the following:

Mindeststandards recyclingfähig

Sortier- und Verwertungsinfrastruktur

1. Existence of a sorting and recycling infrastructure 

If a packaging corresponds to the so-called good material description, it is assumed that it does not make any special demands on recyclability. This means that it can be recycled using the sorting and recovery infrastructure already available on the market.


It is important here that the packaging contains the materials added in attachment 1 of the current specifications. If packaging does not (proportionally) consist of these materials, it is assumed to be non-recyclable in accordance with the new minimum standards. An exception is only possible if a recycling infrastructure that meets the criteria can nevertheless be demonstrated for the individual case. 



2. Sortability and separability for packaging recycling 

For glass, plastics (minus the film fraction), liquid cartons, and paper, cardboard, and paperboard (PPK), sensor-based detectability must be available to ensure technical sortability.

For fiber-based packaging, the separability of the fibers is an important criterion. Especially for PPK (minus liquid cartons) that are impregnated or waxed or, for example, coated, the recyclability must be determined according to relevant test methods.


For plastic packaging, the density of the shredded material must allow allocation to the matching stream of recyclables.

Verpackungsmüll sortieren


3. Absence of recycling incompatibilities

Packaging must be completely recyclable in accordance with attachment 3. This means that it does not contain any substances or combinations of materials that prevent the success of recycling.

If such substances or combinations of materials are present, the designated facility will provide information on the necessary test basis to rule out incompatibility. Other methods of determining the harmlessness of such substances are permitted. However, individual proof must then be provided by means of established tests.


Strengthened conditions of the three minimum standards and an addition

Within these specifications, the criteria for the new edition of the requirements were tightened based on further and new developments in the industry.

Point 4.4 is also completely new and deals with the recyclable material content of a total packaging for the assessment of recyclability. This means that packaging consisting of several materials must now be considered in its entirety if the individual components are not necessarily separated in all steps between use and consumption up to sorting.

Further applies: 

  • In the case of packaging consisting of or containing metal, the assessment of recyclability is limited to the metal. Liquid cartons, metallized packaging and cups with aluminum blanks are excluded.
  • For fiber-based packaging without metal content, the recyclability rating is limited to the fiber content. If this is recyclable, so is the entire packaging.



1) General overview of the Federal Environment Agency on the new minimum standards:

2) Original of published paper via Verpackungsregister.org:

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