We suggest that China's proposed circular economy should cover the entire life cycle of products and not just focus on industrial parks (see J. A. Mathews and H. Tan Nature 531, 440–442; 2016).
Consumer-waste recycling, for example, should also be part of the circular economy. The delivery of online orders in China last year accounted for some 8 billion plastic bags, 10 billion boxes and 17 billion metres of adhesive tape, yet most of the retailers and companies responsible have no recycling arrangements (see go.nature.com/pv2omq; in Chinese).
Industrial parks designed for a circular economy can have serious limitations, because the interdependence of manufacturers creates a vulnerability. For example, if any one of them closes down or switches to other products, the whole production chain can collapse.
Moreover, these parks cannot be built everywhere. Site selection depends on local manufacturing priorities and on that area's environmental, social and technological conditions. Transforming conventional industrial parks and zones to circular-economy parks has also been problematic because of poor planning, design and supervision.
Government-controlled circular-economy projects need to be made publicly accountable to safeguard against financial corruption and to ensure transparent oversight. Disorderly operation, enforcement or supervision in the recycling of pollutants or hazardous materials, for example, can lead to disasters such as last year's huge chemical explosion at Tianjin (see Z. Tang et al. Nature 525, 455; 2015).