Abstract Modern approaches in the production theory of business and management economics propose that objects (e.g. materials) be divided into good, bad or neutral. In transformation processes such as occur in production or recycling this makes it possible to distinguish stringently between the economic revenue of a process and the economic and ecological expenditures for it. This approach can be transferred to entire systems of processes in order to determine the system revenue and the system expenditure. Material flow nets or graphs are used for this purpose. In complex material flow systems it becomes possible to calculate not only the costs, but also the direct and indirect environmental impacts of an individual process or a system revenue (for example a product or the elimination of waste) consistently. The approach permits a stringent analysis as well as different analysis perspectives of a material flow system. It is particularly suitable for closed-loop economic systems in which material backflows occur. With the aid of an example developed jointly with Hewlett Packard Europe, the paper outlines how this approach can be employed in the field of e-waste management.