China lays out roadmap for circular economy

By 2025, China should utilise 320 million tons of scrap steel for steelmaking and wrap e-commerce products in only their original packaging.

These are two of the targets in the country’s first ever five-year plan for the circular economy, released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) on Wednesday.

The plan was informed by China’s 2060 carbon neutrality pledge and a global supply chain reshaped by Covid-19 and geopolitical realities, according to a press briefing

It aims to increase the recycling of key metals such as steel, copper, aluminium and lead.

In China, making steel from scrap saves 1.6 tons of CO2 emissions per ton produced, as compared to using iron ores. The import of ores is also heavily affected by relationships with key supplier countries such as Australia.

Last year, 260 million tons of scrap steel were used in Chinese steelmaking. The aim is to have increased this by 23% in the year 2025. Similarly, the amount of recycled copper, aluminium and lead are set to grow by 23%, 55% and 17% respectively.

Those targets are to be achieved in part through urban waste recycling-and-reuse schemes, and by retrofitting industrial parks. The NDRC is also encouraging pilot projects for recycling construction waste and large-scale solid wastes. 

The plan will likely reshape the life cycles of a few key products. It sets out goals to study the “full life cycle management of cars”, and increase the effectiveness of recycling electronics. It also emphasises tackling plastic wastes, including e-commerce packaging.

Read China Dialogue’s reporting series on China’s 14th Five Year Plan and its implications for climate, environment and the ocean.