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Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy
Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy
Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy
Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy
Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy
Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy
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Prof. Zhu Dajian, Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy


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  • 1. ARTICLES Background, Pattern and Policy of China for Developing Circular Economy Zhu Dajian Research Institute of Governance for Sustainable Development under Tongji University, 200092 Shanghai, ChinaAbstract: Circular economy has become one of China’s im- mental pollution. Circular economy was proposed againstportant strategies to realize scientific development and build this situation and regarded as an important approach forecological civilization at present. As in China circular economy China to change its development pattern and realize ‘decou-was put forward as a new economic pattern, the international pling’ development in the future (Zhu, 1998; Zhu, 2000). Icommunity generally holds that this is an innovative move think China’s environment and development by 2020 canfor China’s economy to realize leap-forward development be roughly divided into the following three patterns, withand hopes to learn more about the theory, policy and practice Pattern C being what China needs to strive to realize by de-relating to China’s circular economy. This article introduces veloping circular economy and suitable for China’s currentand comments on the necessity to develop circular economy development level (Zhu, 2007).in China, implications and characteristics of China’s circulareconomy, and China’s main practices and policies to promote it 1.1  Pattern Aat present. Pattern A is the strong materialized pattern of high re-Key words: circular economy, China, Pattern C source consumption and high environmental pollution. The so-called Pattern A adopts the view of American scholar1 Why does China need to develop circular econ- Lester R. Brown in his book Plan B: Rescuing a Planet un-omy vigorously? der Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (Brown, 2003). The strong materialized pattern is expressed as simultaneous de- The period from 2000 to 2020 is a development stage in velopment of economy and environmental pressure. Whilewhich China will strive to build an overall well-off society GDP grows, environmental pressure also grows, which isand realize modernization first in the developed eastern the traditional economic growth pattern. China’s econom-region. China’s economic growth goal by 2020 is to qua- ic development basically followed Pattern A in the past.druple per-capita GDP over 2000, achieving US $3000, For example, it is said when China’s per capita GDP wasfour times more than that in 2000. According to China’s US $400–1000 (i.e. in the light industry stage), its pollut-9–10% economic growth rate over many years, such a goal ant discharge level was already equal to that reached byis attainable. The problem now is that China’s economic developed countries when their per capita GDP was USgrowth over the past 30 years was achieved at the cost of $3000–10 000 (in the high processing industry stage).consuming large quantities of resources and discharging It is to break away from such a resource-consuming andlarge amounts of pollutants. For example, data show that environment-destroying development road that we payChina’s total GDP accounted for about 5.5% of the world’s attention to circular economy today. When participatingtotal in 2006, but standard coal, steel and cement that China in researches for the state’s medium and long-term sci-consumed for this accounted for 15, 30 and 54% of the tech strategic plans, the author estimated with relevantworld’s totals, respectively. If this trend continues in China’s experts: if China continues the current resource-utilizingfuture economic growth, the prospect would be ‘worsening’ method and pollutant-producing level, the influence ofinstead of getting better. the economic and social development on environment Hence the solution to this problem is to decouple the will probably be four to five times of that at present ineconomic growth from resource consumption and environ- the future when population continues to grow and econo-Corresponding author: Zhu Dajian (dajianzhu@263,net) Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment 2008 Vol. 6 No.4
  • 2. ARTICLESmy quadruples by 2020. Apparently, this pattern not only tion and pollutant production will be stabilized after beingmeans serious social instability and serious resource and decelerated. Such development should be acceptable forenvironment problems, but economic development itself both China and the world. For one thing, it accords with thewill also not be sustainable. requirements of sustainability; for another, it accords with the requirements of ecological equity because it creates saf-1.2  Pattern B er living environment for the world while providing rea- Pattern B is the dematerialized pattern which requires sonable room for 1.3–1.5 billion Chinese people to im-absolute decoupling of economy from environment. Pattern prove life. China will probably implement a more thanB is opposite to Pattern A and Lester R. Brown advocates four times greener development strategy after 2020,it in his book as the future development pattern. Its target i.e. the total economic quantity will continue to dou-is that environmental pressure does not grow or even grow ble but resource consumption and pollutant productionnegatively when economy continues to grow positively, will be halved to realize the above-mentioned decouplingi.e. realizing absolute decoupling of the two. In the long of China’s economic development from environmentalrun, such a target is a must for both developed countries pressure. However, as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong andand developing countries and it is the highest connota- other developed coastal areas in the southeast lead othertion of ecological modernization or sustainable develop- areas in development levels in China, a much dematerial-ment. However, can this development target be used right ized strategy should be implemented for them firstly soaway in China’s development in the next 15 years? The that modernization with a win-win meaning in both econ-author’s answer is negative. The author also estimated omy and environment can be basically realized by 2020.roughly that resource productivity must be increased byfour or five times if environmental pressure is not to be 2  Connotations and main characteristics ofincreased apparently when China’s economy grows by China’s circular economyfour times by 2020 and resource productivity must beincreased by eight to ten times if environmental pres- Although the proposal of the idea of circular econ-sure is to be alleviated apparently (by half). This target omy in China (Zhu, 1998) was inspired in time by theis certainly encouraging, but, judging from China’s cur- Recycling Economic Law on Waste promulgated byrent technical ability and management level, it is very Germany in 1996 (Japan proposed the idea of the re-difficult to realize this high dematerialized pattern. If we cycling society in 2000 after China proposed the ideahave to do it, it means that China’s economic target must of circular economy), the contents of China’s ideabe adjusted. Obviously this will affect Chinese people’s liv- of circular economy include many theoretical studying standard and quality from the other aspect. achievements made in the world in the fields of ecolog- ical economics and industrial ecology, etc. (Daly, 2001;1.3  Pattern C Tao, 2003), since the 1990s. Therefore China’s idea of Pattern C is the pattern for increasing resource pro- circular economy has its own characteristics. The au-ductivity which is fit for China’s current stage. China thor believes at least the following characteristics arecannot continue to follow traditional Pattern A, because worth emphasizing. First, China’s circular economy isof the shortage of natural resources and restriction of an idea about the economic pattern in respect of natureenvironmental pressure; restricted by its current develop- rather than an idea about environmental managementment stage, it cannot adopt Pattern B for the high develop- in some other countries, because China hopes to re-ment stage immediately either. Hence the author proposes duce resource consumption and pollutant productiona development pattern fit for China’s development stage in at sources and in the whole process by changing thethe next 15 years, which is shortened to Pattern C (China). economic pattern. It also hopes to achieve win-win inIn Pattern C, China’s economy will keep growing according both economy and environment by circular economyto the established targets and growth of resource consump- instead of ‘economy without recycle’ or ‘recycle with- Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment 2008 Vol. 6 No.4
  • 3. ARTICLESout economy’; therefore the department proposed for be established in the treatment link in cities and regionsplanning circular economy as a whole in China is the as by turning traditional landfill sites into compositeState Development and Reform Commission which has waste-recycling parks with the vein industry as the maina comprehensive nature instead of environmental man- content.agement departments in some other countries. Second,China’s circular economy not only aims at garbage 2.2  Reuse of productseconomy or 3R economy for treating solid waste in It mainly refers to using products for as many timesrespect of objects but at all scarce resources involved and in as many ways as possible instead of using themin China’s economic development, including water, once in the past so as to extend their useful life. Asland, energy, materials and corresponding waste; to shown in the following map, products are put into main-a certain extent, it is of more urgent significance for tenance centers or reclamation centers after use, butChina to develop circular economy which deals with products do not need to be put into the reclamation cen-consumption of water, land, energy and other resources ters if they can be reused after simple maintenance. Onlyand control of related pollutants. Third, China’s circular if products are damaged seriously and cannot be restoredeconomy comprises different space levels in respect and reused after simple maintenance they will be putof scale and includes circular economy of individual into the reclamation centers and then returned to productenterprises, industrial parks and regions, etc. Fourth, manufacturers, parts manufacturers or raw material sup-China’s circular economy stresses progressively in- pliers for corresponding resource recycle according tocreased practice forms on the following three levels in their damages. The ultimate aim of recycle of productsrespect of pattern and emphasizes the need to develop is to realize minimum discharge of waste or even zerofrom low-level recycle of waste based on ecological ef- discharge of waste (so-called zero waste) filled in land inficiency (to reduce consumption and pollution) to high- the end.level recycle of products and services based on ecologi-cal effects (to prevent consumption and pollution).2.1  Recycle of waste Raw material It mainly refers to reclamation of waste from production Part suppliers manufacturersand consumption by technical and management means and Recycle of resourcesis the concrete embodiment of the principle of recycle of re- Recycle of partssources in the 3R principle in circular economy and also an Product manufacturersimportant content of circular economy in Germany and Remanufacture Reuse of partsJapan. This practice reduces effectively the final quan-tity of waste to be treated and is a remarkable progress Reuse of whole Product productsin comparison to the traditional treatment at terminals. dealersRecycle of waste is applicable to three scales, i.e. enter- Productprises, parks and regions. Specifically, a closed-loop pro- maintenanceduction process should be built in individual enterprises Usersto reduce production and discharge of waste in individualenterprises as much as possible. Next, different factoriesshould be linked to form industrial symbiotic combina- maintenancetions to share resources and exchange by-products by centers Redamationbuilding Eco-industrial Parks so that the principle of cir- Centerscular economy can be implemented in a larger scope. Fi-nally, the centralized resource-recycling industry should Fig. 1  China’s circular economy stresses multi-cycles of materials Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment 2008 Vol. 6 No.4
  • 4. ARTICLES2.3  Cycle of services Qi, 2004; Wang, 2004; Wu, 2005). Apart from theoretical studies and practical promotion, the Chinese government It mainly refers to enterprises dealing in and managing mainly took systematic actions in the following four as-products manufactured by them as assets, promoting the pects in this stage.concept of developing from ‘selling products to provid-ing services’ and realizing recycle of assets by establishing 3.1  Drafting an economic law on China’s circular econ-a product service system (shortened to PPS). Its basic omypremise is ‘the value of products lies in the benefit andutility they bring for consumers’, i.e. the real value of Under the support of the NPC of China and the Stateproducts should be their ‘utilization value’ instead of their Development and Reform Commission, China is busy‘exchange value’. designing an economic law on circular economy and the This is in fact the difference between the emphases of relevant draft may be passed officially at the NPC meet-linear economy and circular economy. Exchange value is ing in February 2008. The draft of the economic law onthe central concept in linear economy while use value is the China’s circular economy emphasizes: first, China shouldcentral concept in circular economy. There may be three stick to the principle of giving priority to quantity reduc-kinds of economic types from products to service: pure tion in developing circular economy. Particula r attentionproducts, product services and pure services. Reasonable should be paid to quantity reduction because China is incombination of products and services constitutes the so- the high-speed development stage of industrialization,called product-service system and profits of enterprises, energy and material is consumed too much, waste ofsatisfaction of consumers’ needs and lower social influ- resources is serious and the potential for quantity reduc-ence on environment can be realized by it. For example, tion at front ends are great; second, key points shouldconsumers are no longer inclined to have their own be highlighted and special efforts should be made to putwashing machines or cars through recycle of assets but an end to high energy consumption, heavy pollution andare inclined to use washhouses on streets and means of problems that affect the development of China’s circularpublic transport. economy and hard restrictions should be available to control high consumption and high discharge; third, the3  China’s systems and policies to develop circu- roles of the government, enterprises, public and industri-lar economy al associations should be highlighted in major economic processes, i.e. all links in production and consumption, The development of China’s circular economy has main- so as to constitute synergy for pushing forward the de-ly undergone three stages since 1998. The first stage is the velopment of circular economy; fourth, basic systemsperiod from 1998 to 2000 in which relatively academic favorable for development of circular economy shouldconcept was introduced and theoretical studies were con- be established, including the system for planning circu-ducted. Researchers and scholars in institutions of higher lar economy at the national, provincial, municipal andlearning and scientific research institutions played the county levels, the systems for controlling the total quan-role of ideological enlighteners in this stage. The second tities of resource consumption and pollutant discharge,stage is the period from 2001 to 2005 in which clean the system for extending mainly manufacturers’ productproduction in enterprises and Eco-industrial Parks were responsibilities and the appraising and examinationemphasized in experimenting on circular economy. The system based on indexes of resource input, recyclenational environmental protection department played an and pollutant discharge. Although the drafting of theimportant role in this stage (Xie, 2005). Circular econ- law on circular economy should solve the outstandingomy was advocated as a national strategy in 2006 and problems in development of China’s circular economyChina entered the stage of promoting the development at present, the author thinks the nature of the law onof circular economy systematically at all levels (Li and circular economy as a general guideline and its stra- Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment 2008 Vol. 6 No.4
  • 5. ARTICLEStegic significance should be made clear in explaining 3.3  Making experiments on circular economythe connotations and characteristics of China’s circu-lar economy. It should also be stressed in particular China adopts the method of experimenting in experi-that this law is an economic law instead of an environ- mental units and expanding gradually in development ofmental law, and its objects are mainly scarce resources circular economy and expects to form circular economyand pollutants, it covers all stages from exploitation, of a certain scale by 2010. Hence the State Developmentproduction, consumption to treatment of waste and its and Reform Commission started to experiment on circu-forms include recycle of waste, recycle of products lar economy in the first group of experimental units inand recycle of services. 2006 and these units are divided into four categories. The first is represented by enterprises in high-consumption3.2  Setting goals for development of circular economy and high-discharge key industries; the second by Eco- industrial Parks; the third by waste-recycling enterprises China’s Eleventh Five Year National Economic and or the vein industry; the fourth by cities and regions withSocial Development Plan passed in 2006 set national comprehensive nature, which include some resource-goals with binding significance for development of dependent cities in the central and western regionsChina’s circular economy in the next five years in and super-large cities with scarce resources. In thelight of China’s main problems in resource consump- author ’s opinion, the focus of these experiments istion and pollutant discharge at that time. It requires still mainly low-level recycle of waste with recycle ofenergy consumption per unit GDP to be lowered by resources in waste as the main contents and it is nec-20%, the total discharge quantity of such main pol- essary to further study and develop high-level recyclelutants as chemical oxygen content and sulfur dioxide of products and services with more quantity reduc-to be lowered by 10% and the total area of farmland tion nature because this is the fundamental reason fornot to be less than 1.8 billion mu (1 hectare is 15 mu). China to develop circular economy. To our pleasure,The so-called restrictive indexes are what the govern- the Comprehensive Work Plan for Energy Savingment must realize and fulfill and they have legal force and Reduction of Discharge worked out by the Stateand should be put into the system of all regions anddepartments for appraising economic and social devel- Development and Reform Commission together withopment comprehensively and examining performance. other relevant departments has mentioned that ChinaThis shows that the government has regarded realiza- will experiment on circular economy in the secondtion of circular economy as a public affair which it group of experimental units and recycle of waste andmust do. However, looking from a more systematic old household electric appliances and remanufactureangle, I think it’s not enough to just list a few control of auto parts and machinery will be included so as toindexes in the comprehensive economic and social further develop the practice of circular economy.development plan to develop circular economy. China 3.4  Making appraising indexes for circular economyneeds to make a more detailed and more scientificplan for circular economy and dematerialization in The State Development and Reform Commission, Stateline with economic growth. Its contents should include Environmental Protection Administration and Nationalindexes for controlling the total consumption of water, Bureau of Statistics have compiled and published an indexland, energy and materials, as well as the total dis- system for appraising circular economy in four aspects, i.e.charge of main pollutants so as to adjust the economic output of resources, consumption of resources, comprehen-growth speed and scale in the future and realize transi- sive utilization of resources and discharge of waste. Thereintion from the development pattern of economic growth the resource output index mainly refers to GDP produced byadvancing the scale of resource consumption to the consumption of unrenewable resources (including coal, oil,development pattern of the scale of resource consump- iron ore, non-ferrous metal ore, rare earth ore, phosphorustion controlling economic growth. ore, sulphur ore, limestone and gravel, etc.); the resource Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment 2008 Vol. 6 No.4
  • 6. ARTICLESconsumption index mainly describes resources consumed lization in Trouble. Beijing: Dong Fang Publishing Houseby creating per unit products or per unit GDP and it reflects Daly H, 2001. Beyond growth: Economics of Sustainable Develop-reduction of resource consumption, i.e. ‘quantity reduc- ment. Shanghai: Shanghai Translation Publishing Companytion’, at sources; the comprehensive utilization of resources Li Z Q and Qi J G, 2004. Summary of theories and practices of circu-index mainly reflects reclamation and utilization of solid lar economy. Quantitative Economics and Technological Econom-waste, wastewater, urban household garbage and traditional ics Journal, (9): 145–154waste and old materials and embodies the effect of recy- Tao Z P, 2003. Ecological Burden and Ecological Footprint: Weightcling waste; the waste discharge (disposal) index mainly de- and Size of Sustainable Development. Beijing: Economic Sciencescribes the final discharge (disposal) quantity of solid waste, Publishing Companywastewater, SO2 and COD and reflects the finally reduced Wang C A, 2004. Comments on circular economy problems. Econom-discharge (disposal) quantity of waste through development ic Theory and Economic Management, (12): 73–77of circular economy. The author thinks study and imple- Wu Y P, 2005. Discussion on several theories of circular economy.mentation of statistic indexes should be linked more closely China Development Observation, (6): 30–32with the targets of circular economy as the fundamental aim Xie Z H, 2005. Book of Readings on Circular Economy for Leader-of developing circular economy is to realize dematerialized ships. Beijing: Chinese Environmental Science Publishing Com-economic development, i.e. reduced resource consumption panyand pollutant discharge, and raise the ecological efficiency Zhu D J, 1998. Sustainable development calls for circular economy.of economic growth. Science and Technology Journal, (9): 39–42 Zhu D J, 2000. From sustainable development to circular economy.References World Environment, (3): 6–12 Zhu D J, 2007. China’s Circular Economy and Sustainable Develop-Brown L R, 2003. Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civi- ment. Beijing: Science Press Chinese Journal of Population, Resources and Environment 2008 Vol. 6 No.4