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Environment and circular economy transition in China

Overview of circular economy

A circular economy is an alternative to a linear economy, which is based on a take-make-dispose model.

Whilst there is no universally agreed definition of a circular economy, the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly, the UN’s flagship environment conference, described it as a model in which the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible and waste and resource use are minimized. It underlines the general principle of an economy that decouples economic activities from finite primary resource consumption.


This cyclical model offers an advancement to the traditional linear model and clearly reaches beyond mere waste management: its elements encompass eco-design, repair, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, product sharing, waste prevention and waste recycling, including safe waste recovery and disposal[1].

[1] European Environment Agency (2016). Circular Economy in Europe: Developing the Knowledge Base. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxemburg. Available at:  www.eea.europa. eu/publications/circular-economy-in-europe


Plastic Recycling

Plastics are versatile materials but the way we use them is incredibly wasteful. 95% of the material value is lost after one single use. Our linear packaging system is broken, the take-make-waste system we operate in results in millions of tons of packaging, ending up in landfills, incinerators, or worse the environment. Clean-ups and better recycling alone won’t solve plastic waste and pollution. We must shift our focus to innovations and business models that design out waste, keep materials in use and protect and restore our environment. We need a circular economy for plastic, in which it never becomes waste or pollution.  

Blooming Concern in Package Waste

With the rapid economic development in China, packaging production and consumption is booming, which results in increasing environmental pollution and carbon emissions. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered another sharp increase in online shopping. The online shopping behavior that emerged during the quarantine period is expected to persist even in the post COVID-19 phase. Low collection rate of all types of packaging waste is also likely to harm the environment. Beyond the problem of inadequate recycling, plastic production is also associated with high greenhouse gas emissions.

Emerging Risks caused by ELVs (End-of-Life Vehicles) 

China ranks as one of the top 2 countries in the world in terms of car ownership. As of the end of 2019, there were 260 million cars in China, and resulting 9.1 million end-of-life vehicles (hereafter as ELVs) in theory, whereas only 1.95 million of them were truly recycled. Less than 30% of the ELVs entered the formal dismantling industry. Most of them flew into the black-market either for illegal refitting – potentially burdening traffic safety- or were submitted to inappropriately managed facilities for ELV dismantling and recycling, causing serious environmental pollution and threatening labor safety.