Circular Construction in China: Shanghai, Shenzhen and Nanjing

The Chinese construction sector accounts for over 7% of national GDP (2020). Given the enormous opportunities for circular collaborations in the Chinese buildings and infrastructure sector, the 2022 Dutch Trade Mission focused on three major cities – Shanghai, Shenzhen and Nanjing – and on the circular developments in the local construction sectors. Browse this page to discover more! 


Find more information about circular economy opportunities in China


Facts & Figures

  • Population (2021): 28 million 
  • Size: 6,200 square km
  • Province: Shanghai is one of four cities in China to be stand-alone municipalities, not being part of any state or province
  • Geography: the city is situated on the coast of the East China Sea, at the mouth of the Yangtze River
  • Language: Mandarin
  • GDP per capita (2021): 173,600 yuan
  • Annual Construction Waste (2020): 107.8 million tons

Opportunities in Shanghai: Circular Construction

Shanghai is the biggest city in China and the third largest worldwide. The construction sector thus has a major environmental impact, accounting for roughly 50 % of material use and 40 % of carbon emissions. Annually, 85 million tons of construction waste are generated. These mostly originate from the demolition of old urban areas or constitute residual materials from construction and infrastructure projects, renovation waste, or land and infrastructure excavation.

The Shanghai World Expo in 2010 fostered the first experiments in the circular construction sector, a result of which is the Shanghai Eco Home Project, which was mostly built with waste concrete materials provided by the leading local company Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Co. Ltd. This company is also the developer behind the successful city-wide platform for recycled concrete structures, tracking the use and performance of recycled structure materials. The results of this pilot project show that recycling concrete remains safe even after typhoons and earthquakes and generates 15.6% less carbon emissions per unit area of building material. The success of these pilot projects has increased the local demand for recycled concrete structures to the extent that demand now overcomes the offer in the market.  

Since 2015, the government issued management regulations and technical guidelines on responsibility division and initiated policymaking on the mandatory reuse of waste concrete. In 2021, Shanghai issued a three-year action plan focusing on reducing the environmental impact of the construction sector, by increasing recycling capacity for renovation and demolition waste and reducing the amount of construction waste of 5,9 million tonnes per year by 2023 amongst others. In addition, new rules were promulgated (2021) to make the construction of buildings more sustainable and provide further impetus for circular solutions in this sector. 

With the new five-year plan, application guidelines for R&D institutions and enterprises were addressed and a solid waste product system for construction waste and industrial solid waste is being set up, targeting carbon neutrality. Currently, priority is given to waste slurry with high water contents, amounting to 30 million m³ annually that usually end up in landfill (costly, ineffective and energy-intensive), road fill or backfill. However, more value-maintaining processing technologies are sought after as is a shift from pure reduction to recycling of construction waste slurry.

From a circular business perspective, promising opportunities in Shanghai exist in particular for entrepreneurs involved in preventing the dumping of construction and infrastructure waste, scaling technologies and equipment that convert construction waste into high-value-added building materials, and able to further develop construction waste pre-treatment technology.


Facts & Figures

  • Population (2022): 12,8 million (20+ million estimated counting unregistered workers)
  • Size: 2,050 square km
  • Province: Guangdong
  • Geography: the city is situated on the Southeast Chinese Sea coast, north of Hong Kong and on the eastern bank of the Pearl River
  • Language: Mandarin
  • GDP per capita (2021): 173,700 yuan 
  • Annual Construction Waste: 150 million tons 

Circular Construction in Shenzhen

Shenzhen has rapidly become a major financial centre and hotspot of high-tech manufacturing and is nowadays often referred to as the ‘Chinese Silicon Valley’. The recent development of the city has resulted in great amounts of (construction) waste, which currently total about 150 million tons a year, a figure forecasted to remain unchanged until 2035. The city has however strived to integrate green and low-carbon development into urban planning, environment creation, and industrial clustering. In 2017, the ‘Sustainable Development Plan’ (2017-2030) to make Shenzhen a sustainable global innovation city by 2030, with a focus on sustainable urban development. Following also the release of the city’s 14th five-year plan, the green construction sector has grown significantly to the extent that all new civil buildings constructed meet green building standards. At the beginning of 2022, the ‘Regulations on green buildings in Shenzhen special economic zone’ was additionally released, requiring source reduction of construction waste in terms of project design, building energy efficiency, green buildings, prefab buildings, healthy buildings, green communities, and green urban areas. These measures have increased the share of prefab buildings from 16% in 2018 to currently 38% of all new buildings, and the utilisation rate of construction waste resources from 7% to 13.5%, with the new green building area being 16.99 million square metres, creating significant investment opportunities locally. 

Recently, Shenzhen also started a city-wide pilot based on the concept of ‘overall infrastructure investment’ in the development of new infrastructure projects. The aim is to increase quality and sustainability across the whole lifecycle of new infrastructure. Relevant projects showing the potential of this circularity concept in practice are the Shenzhen Smart Airport, Ma Wan Smart port, and the Yantian East Smart Port. The Shenzhen ‘Belt and Road Environmental Technology Exchange and Transfer Center’ (B&R ETTC) is the first national service platform entity in green Belt and Road construction. Their mission is promoting the potential of green technology and enhancing international cooperation in the field of circular buildings and provide relative services for Chinese and Dutch enterprises.

In 2019, Shenzhen was selected together with other nine major Chinese cities as a National Zero Waste City Pilot and is since heavily investing in circular management, with the plan to become waste-free by 2035. The zero-waste goals cover six major areas, including household waste, industrial solid waste, construction waste, hazardous waste, municipal sludge and agro waste. Interventions thus include e.g.  compulsory sorting of domestic waste, digital city-wide smart waste management systems and circular construction initiatives, such as promoting the application of prefab buildings, advancing green construction operations, implementing quota-based construction waste disposal, fostering the development of facilities for the recycling of construction waste and promoting the deployment of recycled material. To achieve these ambitious waste-free goals, the city lined up 100 tasks and developed a systematic matrix with 58 indicators for a greener building sector (targeting solid, construction and hazardous waste amongst others). Of these, 76 tasks have been already accomplished and 36 indicators satisfied. 

Locally, the large, state-owned construction enterprise ‘Shenzhen SEZ Construction Group’ provides lifecycle services for urban infrastructure, including the maintenance of bridges and tunnels in the city. Its recently established subsidiary ‘Shenzhen SEZ Construction Solid Waste Recycling and Recovery Co. Ltd.’ is committed to the treatment, recycling and recovery of construction waste. They aim at a complete value chain comprising demolishing, waste collection, transport, treatment, remanufacturing and reuse, and they are also engaged in the recycling of other types of solid waste, such as river sludge, sewage sludge, and slag.

Shenzhen is keen to explore cooperation opportunities to accelerate the circular transition, both through research and business. Further improvements are currently sought after in increasing the capacity for solid waste treatment and the recycling rate of construction material, representing profitable opportunities for Dutch innovators. Other potential areas of cooperation include: green building materials; construction waste separation technology and equipment; recovering technology; technologies and equipment that convert construction waste into high-value-added building materials; efficient muck treatment technologies for infrastructure projects such as non-sintering technologies; and construction waste processing sites.  

Another notable local development is the establishment of major circular industrial hubs focused on the recycling of end-of-life EV batteries and waste electronics thanks to state-of-the-art technologies.


Facts & Figures

  • Population (2022): 9,5 million 
  • Size: 6,598 square km
  • Province: Jiangsu, of which is the capital city
  • Geography: the city is situated in east-central China, on the bank of the Yangtze River and 260 km west of Shanghai
  • Language: Mandarin
  • GDP per capita (2020): 159,300 yuan
  • Annual Construction Waste (2021): 2.8 million tons


Circular Construction in Nanjing

Nanjing counts as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China and today is the second largest city in the East China region. Main industries include electronics, steel and car manufacturing. Local ambitions to develop circular infrastructures are high, as waste production rates far exceed regional landfill capacities. In 2021, the city disposed of about 3 million tons only in construction waste. 

Established in 2019, the ‘Nanjing Construction Waste Utilisation Association’ gathers today 50 member enterprises and businesses, who are active in fields including construction demolition, waste disposal, and recycled product applications. The Association has compiled numerous industry standards, developed five construction waste information and big data platforms and incubated 21 waste disposal enterprises. The association has already successfully cooperated with the Netherlands Business Support Office in Nanjing and with the Consulate in Shanghai. 

Additionally, four different municipal associations have come together to create the ‘Jiangsu Province Circular Economy Association’ with the goal of bringing together over 500 field experts and building a large-scale circular industry chain covering engineering construction, solid waste utilisation, recycled resources, energy conservation and environmental protection. The goal is integrating resources and connecting the upper and lower streams of the construction value chain. These initiatives represent an opportunity for Dutch businesses to contribute their innovative ideas in the field of circular construction and waste management.

‘Nanjing Fuyuming Green and New Material Company’ is the largest company in the city processing a large amount of industrial solid waste, iron tailings and urban construction waste for comprehensive utilisation, with a production plant of 20,000 square metres. They use industrial solid waste, iron tailings, urban construction slag and construction waste powder to produce sintered new wall materials. In order to improve the high-quality utilisation of bulk solid waste and tailings, earlier this year the company introduced the ‘Nanjing Silitech Experimental technology Co. Ltd.’ to further technological development in the field of comprehensive utilisation of tailing ponds by piloting a new low-carbon and pollution-free treatment process. The iron and copper tailings treated through their innovative processes become new raw materials for iron and steel works. After the comprehensive utilisation of the existing 13 million tons of tailings, the expected output value can reach nearly 10 billion RMB.

‘China Construction Industrial & Energy Engineering Group Co. Ltd.’ (CCIEE) is a large enterprise focused on urban development and the engineering of new municipal infrastructure focused on digital and smart construction solutions, in line with national plans for carbon peaking and neutrality. They are leaders in the field of intelligent building electronic information and have implemented the vertical integration and horizontal synergy of the whole industry supply chain, from investment to design, procurement, construction, manufacturing, testing and operation. They are open for cooperation with Dutch leading firms particularly in the fields of green and low-carbon buildings, municipal sewage treatment, and soil remediation.