In the Name of Circularity: Environmental Improvement and Business Slowdown in a Chinese Recycling Hub



This article examines the concept of ‘circular economy’ by looking at its effects on recycling activities in China, in particular through the lens of e-waste or DEEE (discarded electrical and electronic equipment). It focuses on a case study of the recent changes in the globally notorious DEEE recycling hub of Guiyu since plans for the construction of a ‘circular economy industrial park’ unfolded. Drawing on fieldwork carried out by the authors annually since 2012, the article points to the highly disruptive character of changes operated by the Chinese state in the name of increased circularity. After more than two decades of severe pollution, environmental betterment in Guiyu was long overdue. But it came at a high price: a marked business slowdown that forced the majority of workshops to close down. As activities and discards started concentrating in the park, so did profits in the hands of the local elite. This leads us to argue that the circular economy in China, which is ostensibly about improving resource efficiency, can in practice have more to do with controlling who benefits economically from recycling activities.


circular economyindustrial parkrecyclinge-wastesociotechnical imaginaryChina
  • Year: 2019
  • Volume: 2 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 9
  • DOI: 10.5334/wwwj.28
  • Submitted on 10 Jan 2019
  • Accepted on 5 May 2019
  • Published on 13 Jun 2019
  • Peer Reviewed