Circular economy is possible: wall paint is a good example

A joint project between a reknown coatings company and one of the large waste management companies in Germany sees groundbreaking progress in circular economy.

Circular economy is something else than recycling

Circular economy is something else than recycling. It means to actually keep valuable materials in a cradle-to-cradle loop, thus to re-use them instead of just building up material recycling in the disposal process. The issue is getting more and more important as too much plastic is still sent to incineration and not materially recycled. Moreover, many present-day circular economy projects appear to be stuck in a concept stage and real innovation in this field is scarce.

Two companies teamed up that feel themselves to be at the core of the problem: PNZ Woodcare Manufactory from Kipfenberg, Bavaria, is a reknown manufacturer of wood and wall paints, a Certified B Corp and a thought and technology leader in the field of getting sustainability right. Zentek group operating one of the top 3 dual systems in Germany and a large player in industrial waste management in Germany with the clear attitude of keeping valuable resources in the loop and state-of-the-art recycling once the end of lifecycle has come and just starting its B-Corp journey.

The problem

Wallpaint is the largest segment of construction chemicals and it is a role model for linear waste processes. From manufacturing to consumer kept in a plastic container, the content used for protective and decorative purposes, the container then – in the ideal scenario – brought to the waste disposal and there thermally recycled (incinerated), that is the process chain of approximately 2 bn EUR worth of interior wall paint in Germany every year.

The project

PNZ and Zentek aimed to tackle this problem along the key impact factors of sustainability: Longevity, keeping recyclables in a closed process loop for as long as possible and low-impact non-thermal recycling at the end of lifecycle.

The project was looking for a coherent strategy to optimize the total lifecycle footprint of wall paint usage scenarios. This required analysis and decisions on the following topics:

  1. The product and it’s footprint
  2. The re-usability of the packaging
  3. The return process of the packaging
  4. The re-usage of both residual paint and packaging
  5. A controlled and low-impact end of lifecycle (that even the best packaging will face eventually)

The goal of the project was to optimize all five aspects of sustainability based on analysis of CO2-footprints and other relevant factors that were published here.

The solution

It was possible to find the optimal fully-circular solution that optimizes other relevant sustainability factors as well. The solution was named „WANDFARBE OHNE ABFALL“ (“Wall Paint Without Waste”) and contains the following aspects:

The product is a silicate wall paint, a technology for centuries known for longevity (by a process called silification) and high living comfort (especially recommended for allergics). The paint is breathable, contains no biocides and is mold-inhibiting by it’s high ph-value (above 11). The paint is manufactured from regional resources.

The packaging is a stable HDPE screw-top bucket that is functional (paint can be directly rolled from the bucket). Tests have shown that it can be reused between 12 and 20 times under practical conditions.

The return process is designed to overcome existing barriers from paint collection systems by making it possible for the customer to send the bucket back to the manufacturer with a toll-free return label. It is particularly important that firstly the bucket does not have to be cleaned before return (actually it is better if paint residue remains in the bucket) and secondly to understand that this is not “shipment of waste” but to the contrary “shipment of valuable raw materials”.

A cleaning process was designed so that the incoming buckets are cleaned at the manufacturer with pressurized water and then re-used. The cleaning water is subsequently dried and the remaining paint residue (mostly chalks and TiO2) are ground and re-used for the manufacturing of new paint.

The Wallpaint without waste circle (German)

If the bucket reaches it’s end of lifecycle, the process is designed to avoid thermal recycling. The cleaned buckets are shredded by the recycling company and used as raw material for the manufacturing of rHDPE, in a best case becoming new packaging but in any case returning to a material HDPE stream..

The footprint

The lifecycle assessment (LCA) of CO2e(*)-footprint comprises the following aspects:

  • Material of bucket
  • Label and leaflet with instruction manual
  • Mailing envelope
  • Back-shipping of the used bucket to manufacturer

We have based our CO2e-footprint analysis on the ICE Database of the University of Bath that have analyzed the CO2e-lifecycle footprints for many building materials. Compared to existing Polypropylene-buckets in single-use shows a 90% reduction in CO2e-footprint and a 100% reduction of microplactic issues due to controlled end of lifecycle. A sensitivity analysis shows this result to be quite stable with variations of the parameters.

The implementation

Goal of the project was to show that circular economy is possible in the field of wall paint. Moreover, the goal was to actually implement the product and the corresponding business and material processes in the real economy. The „WANDFARBE OHNE ABFALL“ has been available on the German market since September 1, 2022.


(*) CO2e stands for „carbon-dioxide equivalents“, meaning CO2 and other greenhouse gases measured in CO2-units for easier comparison

For more details on the calculations please see (German)

PNZ is one of the leading suppliers of environmentally friendly and sustainable wood protection and wood care products as well as silicate wall paints. The manufactory from the Altmühltal Nature Park in the heart of Bavaria is holistically committed to sustainability, is a certified B Corporation and has a CO2-neutral, Scope 3-certified supply chain – from regional raw material extraction through production to the entire logistics. For more information on PNZ please visit

Zentek has been operating on the waste management market for the past 25 years. Along with the Duale System Zentek, Zentek’s services include the business divisions ‘Waste disposal nationwide’, ‘Disposal of waste electrical/electronic equipment’, and ‘Disposal of transport packaging’. It is also actively involved in the digitisation of the branch through a variety of mobile solutions for waste-disposal firms and for producers of waste. For more information on Zentek please visit


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