When was the circular economy idea first introduced in China?

“As far as I know the idea of circular economy (CE) was first introduced in China in the late 1990s, by researchers and advocates who largely drew from the policies and practices that had already been applied in developed countries such as Germany and the US.”


What was the importance of the 2008 Circular Economy Promotion Law? What are the main principles spread by that document?

“As my co-author and I mentioned in an article in Journal of Industrial Ecology in 2011, the law proclaims the CE as a major economic and social development goal for the country. The law has since played a central role in promoting the idea of CE both within the government, the wider economy and society, and providing legitimacy to CE initiatives and practices in China. Principles stated in the law include: systematic planning and practices according to local contexts, an emphasis on the roles of both government and the market, and prioritising ‘reduce’ from the 3Rs. 

However, there has also been criticism of the law because it lays out general principles whilst lacking a complementary set of more detailed guidelines, which many believe has impeded a more effective implementation of the law. These concerns have resulted in recent discussions on a revision of the law.”


What are the contents of the 2017 Circular Development Leading Action Plan? How does it affect imported waste restrictions imposed by the Chinese Government in 2018?

“There have been a number of policies and initiatives introduced by the Chinese government in this area during recent years, and the 2017 Circular Development Leading Action Plan was one of them. This policy document was released by the country’s central economic management agency under the State Council and was designed to follow up and implement what had been stated in the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP) with regards to CE. The Plan reiterates some of the key objectives in the 13th FYP and makes some others more specific. For example, it requires ‘resource output rate’ in China to increase by 15% in 2020 compared with 2015 levels; the recycling rate for major waste types to reach around 54.6%; the general utilisation rate of industrial solid waste to reach 73%; the output value of the resource recycling industry to reach 3 trillion yuan; and 75% of national-level industrial parks and 50% of provincial-level industrial parks to undergo a circular transformation, etc.

I do not see a direct relationship between the Action Plan and the ban on imported waste imposed in 2018. In my view, the ban was mainly driven by environmental concerns in China caused by processing imported waste; and to some extent, the ban may even be at odds with the principles of a CE because it can lead to some producers having to source material inputs from virgin raw materials.”


What role did public opinion play in pushing the Chinese Government towards its new goals for circularity?

“Currently, the CE is largely driven by both government at various levels and industry. Bottom-up efforts to promote circularity, especially from the general public, still need to improve in China to complement the top-down approach.”


What are the main sectors involved?

“Many sectors have taken CE initiatives in China. For example, specific guidelines for ten manufacturing industries, including coal mining, electricity, steel and iron, non-ferrous metal, petroleum and petrochemical industry, chemical industry, building materials, paper, food, and textile, plus agricultural and service sectors, were included in the Circular Economy Development Strategy and Action Plan released by the State Council in 2012. Case studies based on CE practices from these industries have also been developed.”


What are the main obstacles facing CE in China? And what are the future development perspectives?

“In my view, future development in CE in China (and elsewhere) should focus on innovative governance to provide further financial and non-financial incentives for potential participants to form CE linkages for reuse and recycling of industrial by-products.”


Will cities and urban systems play an important role in boosting Chinese CE in the next years?

“Absolutely. The CE focus in China during the past years has largely concentrated on industrial sectors. The CE in urban environments, especially in relation to the provision and use of services, for example, based on sharing economy (in a genuine sense), is to be further developed.”


Will the 14th Five-Year Plan – as the previous three – contain any programmes devoted to the CE?

“The 14th FYP to cover 2021-2025 is currently being developed and little information has been released to date. From what I can see, CE has been included in scoping research for the 14th FYP by a number of provincial governments and I expect CE will again be highlighted in the 14th FYP.” 


Top image: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke/Pixabay