This Evidence Report investigates how China’s rise as a global recycling hub affects other countries’ prospects for moving towards a circular economy. This question has received little, if any, attention in the burgeoning literature on sustainability.
There is substantial literature on global resource depletion, on the need to overcome the throwaway economy and on national and local attempts to move towards a circular economy. There is, however, little analysis of how the global trade in recycled materials, which is increasingly dominated by China, affects other countries’ attempts to build a circular economy.
The report fills this gap by first showing that China’s rise in importing waste and exporting new products feed on each other, thus underlining the well-known proposition that waste can be turned into a strategic resource. Second, it examines the implications for other countries by unpacking the effects. It distinguishes between effects that come from the sheer rise in quantity of China-bound trade in recycled materials and effects that come from China raising the quality standards for importing recycled materials. These effects are then examined for developed and developing countries of different types. This differentiated analysis shows that the prospects for building a circular economy can only be understood by incorporating the China-dominated global trade in the analysis. Riding on the growth of recycled materials, countries or regions can build circular domestic loops and create business and employment opportunities, but these are influenced by the configuration of their recycled material trade with China. These influences are not just economic. The constellation of actors seeking to promote – or slow down – transitions to a circular economy are also influenced by the trading opportunities with China. The report cannot trace all of these economic and political connections. Its purpose is to open up this topic, put forward propositions and indicate corridors for future research.
Ashish Chaturvedi; McMurray, N. China’s Emergence as a Global Recycling Hub. What Does it Mean for Circular Economy Approaches Elsewhere? Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Brighton, UK (2015) 38 pp. [IDS Evidence Report No. 146]