A survey and analysis on public awareness and performance for
promoting circular economy in China: A case study from Tianjin
Qian Liu, Hui-ming Li*, Xiao-li Zuo, Fei-fei Zhang, Lei Wang
College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, 94 Weijin Road, 300071 Tianjin, PR China
a r t i c l e i n f o
Received 8 November 2007
Received in revised form 31 May 2008
Accepted 6 June 2008
Available online 25 July 2008
a b s t r a c t
The main objective of this study is to create a better understanding of public awareness and performance
in the promotion of a Circular Economy (CE) in Tianjin, China. The data and information used in this
paper were collected by distributing questionnaires randomly in 6 urban districts and interviewing 600
respondents. The results indicate that the residents have limited awareness and a poor understanding
about the CE program. However, they hold a positive attitude toward garbage sorting while most of the
residents simply classify the garbage into categories that can be sold, reused or exchanged for new ones.
People’s awareness of the CE program has a positive correlation to their educational level, whereas their
pro-environmental and resource conservation behavior has a positive correlation to the age of the
? 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1.1. Research background
China’s rapid industrialization has engenderedserious problems
with the depletion of natural resources, degradation of major
ecosystems, and pollution extending far beyond its borders. China’s
leadership, inspired by Japanese and German Recycling Economy
Laws, has formed a Circular Economy (CE) initiative in order to
decouple theeconomic growthfromenvironmental degradation, as
well as build an environmental-friendly and resource-saving
The concept of CE was first proposed by scholars in China in
1998 and formally accepted in 2002 by the Central Government as
a new development strategy aimed at environmental protection,
pollution prevention and sustainable development . So far, the
research of CE was conducted in two different layers which could
be simplified as ‘‘the CE in practice’’ and ‘‘the CE in theory’’. ‘‘The CE
in practice’’ aims at realizing waste minimization, environmental
simultaneously, so it equals to a package of the all-round, system-
atic strategies and tools approaching the goals mentioned above.
‘‘3R’’ principle – reduction, reusing, and recycling of materials and
energy – are often cited to describe the three possible approaches
in practice. However, ‘‘the CE in theory’’ belongs to the field of
ecological economics which owns the theoretical premise that the
economic system is an open subsystem of the earth’s ecological
system with limited resource and environment capability. As the
unbalanced material exchange between the ecosystem and the
socioeconomic system have taken place on the stage of in-
dustrialization, the circular economy defines its mission as solving
the problems from the perspective of reducing the material flux
and making the material flow balanced between the ecosystem and
the socioeconomic system.
The driving forces behind the dramatic development of a CE can
be attributed to both (1) changes in governance philosophies of the
Chinese Government and (2) the severe situation thatoureconomic
growth has created with an excessively high cost of resources and
the environment. Due to such a unique background, the concept of
the circular economy in China has its own understandings and
focuses of practice compared with the relevant concepts and
activities found in other countries such as Germany and Japan .
China is just reaching the mid-industrialization stage, meanwhile
facing compound environmental issues including various cases of
pollution and ecological degradation as well as global environ-
mental problems, which result from a compressed process of
industrialization, urbanization and disharmonies between urban
and rural districts. Such a situation determines that mitigating the
industrial pollution and consumption intensities of resources and
energyconstitute the overall picture of circular economy practice in
China, rather than the waste-based focus in Germany and Japan at
the early stage of circular economic activities.
* Corresponding author. Tel./fax: þ86 022 2350 0557.
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (Q. Liu), firstname.lastname@example.org
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Journal of Cleaner Production
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Journal of Cleaner Production 17 (2009) 265–270
for new ones if possible. In all, 31.7% people point out that classifi-
cation is inconvenient and 25.8% think they lack instruction or rel-
evant knowledge. Thus, sorting and recycling schemes should be
designed with convenience in mind, based on the time distribution
and space for today’s household. The investigation also shows that,
means to implement recycling schemes are often lacking. There are
many other barriers (political, financial, planning related, etc.) that
complicate and delay the recycling campaign or the construction of
larger national recycling systems, especially in large cities.
People with higher education and higher income, and between
the age of 26 and 55, are more inclined to ownership. It is no doubt
that more effort should be undertaken to change people’s tradi-
tional view about ownership and sustainable consumption. Since
we found that the respondents’ choices are related to their eco-
nomic status and the cost of buying or renting various articles,
therefore more researches are needed.
In terms of demographic characteristics, residents’ awareness of
CE has a positive correlation with their education, whereas their
pro-environmental and resource conservation behavior has a posi-
tive correlation with their age. Therefore, promotion of behaviors
should focus on the younger age groups.
Though CE has been accepted in China and it is thought to have
a promising future, there are many gaps to be filled before the ideal
blueprint of CE can be realized in the foreseeable future.
4.2. Some future research directions
Although this study has provided useful information for policy
makers, there are limitations to the approach taken. Firstly, in order
to investigate the public involvement of CE, the concept of CE
embodied in the questionnaire mostly focused on the three-Rof the
consumption behavior. Therefore the rebound effect, the energy
use of recycling, waste generation of recycling process, and the
system boundaries of CE, which actually contribute to unsustain-
ability, were not considered in this research. These important
aspects will need to be considered and measured in the future re-
search. Secondly, a small sample size of participants restricts the
extent to which the findings can be generalized to the total pop-
ulation of Tianjin. Also there was a bias in the sample toward
females, 26–46 years old, and people with junior college diploma or
higher education living in the urban environment. Last but not the
least, the design of the questionnaire restricts the factor analysis to
be used in the investigation. Future researches should examine
determinants of pro-environmental behaviors in Tianjin. We also
don’t what to limit our research scope to a single city, more
research could be undertaken and a comparative approach among
studies could be used on the determinants of citizen’s in this
matter. Research on situational and organizational factors reducing
barriers to the implementation of CE plan is also needed. The
results of such a study could then be useful in the design of
This project is supported by the Tianjin Academy of social sci-
ence (reference no. TJ:YY 06-005).
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