China planning new recycled material standards as part of circular economy strategy

China recycling
A person collecting waste in China

China’s National Development and Reform Commission has said that the country will develop new recycled material standards within its new circular economy strategy.

Previously, China has said that it will permit imports that meet these standards.


In the 14th Five Year Circular Economy Development Plan, it says it will develop new recycled material standards for waste steel, waste non-ferrous metals, waste plastics and waste paper.

By 2025, China plans to use 60 million tonnes of waste paper per year in its industries, rising from 54.9 million tonnes in 2020.

It also said that its printing and packaging industries will be required to use more recycled content.

However, China has said that it will focus on building a domestic circular economy. Despite the United States, Europe and Japan all building circular economies, China warned that in international trade unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise. With the addition of the Covid pandemic, the global supply chain has also been affected. According to China, this poses a threat to its resource security, and the circular economy is a way of protecting its resource interests.

China also recognised that it is reliant on raw materials from other countries for its industrial output, and that it needs to use its domestic resources more efficiently by striving “to build a resource recycling industrial system, and accelerate the construction of a recycling system for waste materials”.

It also said that recycling infrastructure also needed to improve over the next five years to build “high quality recycling capabilities”.

Paul’s view

Paul Sanderson, REB Market Intelligence
Paul Sanderson, REB Market Intelligence

China’s Circular Economy Development Plan is full of ambition but short of detail.

At just 16 pages long, it is filled with aims to create a circular economy by 2025, but not much on how it will get there. This isn’t unusual with this type of Chinese Government document though, and typically its ambitions get achieved once the detail emerges eventually.

What is clear is that the Chinese Government wants to extract more resources from its domestic market. It is worried about the rise in protectionism, and how Covid has had an impact on the raw materials it imports for its industries.

For the international recycling industry, this could end up being both a positive and negative development.

One the one hand, China wants to ensure more material is recycled domestically, as evidenced by its ambition to increase recovered paper use by a touch over 5 million tonnes by 2025.

But on the other, the development of new standards for materials such as paper and plastic could give the level playing field that is required by the World Trade Organisation to allow for competition between domestic and international industries.

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