The Development of Circular Economies in China

By Mark Esposito, Terence Tse & Khaled Soufani

In this article, the authors discuss China’s implementation of Circular Economic development programs in order to address the country’s pressing environmental issues.


China’s remarkable economic success has been accompanied by unparalleled population growth and extensive resource use. As China continues to grow, the population in urban centers will reach close to 1 billion residents by 2025 and the country will have 221 cities with populations greater than one million. Unfortunately, this growth is unsustainable given that the country has not managed its resources well until now: it suffers from high emission industries, unsafe pollution levels, and severe water contamination. China is also the world’s largest source of carbon emissions and it fails to meet many standards of international health. These environmental issues are directly affecting standards of living – for example, areas with poor air pollution shorten life expectancy by several years. China is addressing these issues through involvement in initiatives such as UNFCCC negotiations, the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, and the G8 Summit. Realising the urgency of the environmental issues, many cities in China are also addressing their specific environmental burdens using a city-level Circular Economics approach. Circular Economic development has entailed investment in clean production methods, clean energy sources, resource-based planning, and waste-utilisation. Unlike in other countries where the development of circular economies can be considered proactive measure, China development of a circular economy is unarguably being built out of necessity.

This analysis will focus on a few provinces that were recognised by the UN for their success as “eco-provinces”: Jilin, Shandong, Zhejiang, and Anhui. The analysis will consider the various methods used in the development of their circular economies as well as the benefits that ensued.


Success in Circular Economic Agriculture (Anhui)

The Anhui province was one of the first provinces in China to research and implement Circular Economics due to its over-population, lack of resource, supply and demand gap, and pollution. Circular Economic Agriculture was one major focus in the province as they hoped to prevent agricultural pollution, reduce the cost of agriculture production (a major burden for farmers), and encourage ecological development. The hope was that these circular agriculture technologies would result in higher yield crops, lower production costs, conservation of land, and the reversal of environmental deterioration that is often caused by manure and pesticides. The Agricultural Economy in Anhui was very successful in this respect. One especially successful achievement was its development of edible fungi as a sustainable fertilizer. In brief, the byproducts of crop straw, rattan, hull, and wood crumbs are used to cultivate edible fungi which is then turned into biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacterial decomposition of organic wastes with potential use as fuel or as an organic pollution-free fertilizer. The mixture of byproducts could also be used as fish feed and livestock feed. Any of these uses ultimately reduces the use of harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Anhui has already developed and used the edible fungi in several counties.

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