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Reshaping Urban Spaces Circular City Models in China's Developing Economy

2023 Experts on Circular Economy in Action: How Zero Waste Cities Are Leading the Change

In October 2023, Arcas & Callisto (A&C) hosted the "Experts on Circular Economy in Action: How Zero Waste Cities Are Leading the Change" webinars, gathering circular economy industry experts from China and Europe. The sessions aimed to explore the necessary urban transformations for achieving sustainable development. Liu Jingjiang, Director of the Tech Acceleration Centre at the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD), shared insights into China's circular city development and its future prospects.

Despite China's ongoing urbanization, global responses to climate change have accelerated, leading many nations to set carbon-neutral targets. As a significant carbon emitter, China is no exception.

The concept of a circular city involves shifting from the traditional linear flow of resources, products, pollution, and emissions to a circular economy model within specific urban spaces. This transition follows the principles of reduction, reuse, and recycling.

China's Circular Economy Initiatives

In 2021, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) outlined plans for the circular economy's development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. The initiatives include:

  • Implementation of a recycling system for urban waste materials.

  • Development of recycling park projects.

  • Demonstration projects for the comprehensive utilization of bulk solids.

  • Initiatives for the utilization of construction waste.

  • Innovation projects focusing on recycling technologies and equipment.

Progress of Zero-Waste Cities Pilot Work

In December 2021, China unveiled a program for constructing zero-waste cities during the 14th Five-Year Plan. The plan aims to build approximately 100 zero-waste cities, emphasizing their role in achieving carbon peaking and carbon neutrality.

China‘s carbon goal

These cities prioritize innovation, coordination, green practices, openness, and sharing. They promote clean production and lifestyles, with a focus on minimizing solid waste at its source. By 2020, around 560 projects for solid waste utilization and treatment were in progress.

Key lessons from the pilot work include:

  • Implementation of whole-process control.

  • Construction of solid waste treatment parks.

  • Regional coordination to promote resource sharing through collaborative management.

  • Utilization of smart information platforms for refined management.

Developing Circular Economy Through Urban Renewal

China is integrating circular economy principles into urban renewal, optimizing the form and function of urban spaces within central cities. Urban renewal enhances the use of housing, municipal facilities, public infrastructure, industrial structures, environmental quality, and cultural heritage.

Chengdu city

Since 2009, various government levels in China have executed guiding documents and pilot activities on urban renewal, leading to successful experiences. However, increased land development intensity, reaching ecological red lines, and the shortage of building land in first and second-tier cities pose challenges.

Strategies for Promoting Circular Economy in China

Regarding construction waste, China has evolved from centralized piles to landfills and basic crude utilization for purposes like road filling. Embracing the circular economy concept, China now employs a whole life-cycle assessment methodology. Director Liu Jingjiang and his team collaborate with the European Horizon project RECONMATIC to study construction waste recycling.


To advance circular economy development and sustainable urban renewal, China plans to strengthen the entire life cycle of solid waste management. This involves reducing waste at its source and enhancing the applicability of waste treatment technologies. International cooperation programs, improvements in relevant systems (especially management), and enhanced supervision and evaluation mechanisms are crucial for achieving these goals.


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