This study provides a systematic approach for assessment of contaminants in materials for recycling. Paper recycling is used as an illustrative example. Three selected chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA), diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOHs), are evaluated within the paper cycle. The approach combines static material flow analysis (MFA) with dynamic material and substance flow modeling. The results indicate that phasing out of chemicals is the most effective measure for reducing chemical contamination. However, this scenario was also associated with a considerable lag phase (between approximately one and three decades) before the presence of chemicals in paper products could be considered insignificant. While improved decontamination may appear to be an effective way of minimizing chemicals in products, this may also result in lower production yields. Optimized waste material source-segregation and collection was the least effective strategy for reducing chemical contamination, if the overall recycling rates should be maintained at the current level (approximately 70% for Europe). The study provides a consistent approach for evaluating contaminant levels in material cycles. The results clearly indicate that mass-based recycling targets are not sufficient to ensure high quality material recycling.