Comparative assessment of circular economy development in China’s four megacities: The case of Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Urumqi

Resources scarcity and environmental pollution in China negatively influence the country’s sustainable development. Circular Economy (CE), which established on the basis of “3R principals”, was adopted by the Chinese authorities as a national development strategy to reduce resource consumption and mitigate environmental pollution. After more than ten years’ implementation of CE strategy, it is of vital importance to investigate the progresses and current status of CE development in China, especially in those China’s megacities from both spatial and temporal perspectives, so as to identify the barriers of local CE development in megacities. To achieve such an objective, this study assesses the CE development in China’s four megacities during the last ten years by using one unified indicator system. Results indicate that significant disparities exist among China’s four megacities regarding both CE development index trajectory and CE internal structure. While all four megacities had significantly improved their CE development since 2005, megacities located in eastern China, namely Beijing and Shanghai, had better CE development performances than megacities from western China, namely Urumqi and Chongqing. With respect to the composition of CE development index, Beijing and Urumqi were doing better on balancing the development of CE’s four aspects, namely, resource consumption intensity (RCI), waste emission intensity (WEI), waste recycling and utilization rate (WRUR) and waste disposal level (WDL). In contrast, CE development in Chongqing and Shanghai was primarily attributed to the three aspects of RCI, WEI and WDL, and the WRUR aspects had contributed little to their CE development during the last ten years, indicating an unbalanced CE development status. Additional, Shanghai and Chongqing increased faster on annual average CE development index, and the growth of CE development index of Urumqi was the slowest among the four megacities. In order to promote the CE development performance in China’s four megacities, several measures have been proposed, including providing financial and technological support to Urumqi and Chongqing, promoting the recycling of reclaimed wastewater in Chongqing and Shanghai, supporting the application of integrated waste management, as well as encouraging the participation of local residents. This study could provide valuable reference for countries and regions that adopt CE as their development mode.