China Centre Tübingen (CCT)

Ecotransitions: Sustainable Waste Management in China

Plastic is ubiquitous. Mass production of plastics has accelerated in only six decades to 8.3 billion metric tons – most of it in disposable products. A whopping 6.3 billion metric tons has turned into waste and a mere 9% has been recycled creating a global environmental crisis.

For decades, waste exports have kept the waste management industry in rich countries afloat. Developed countries have outsourced their plastic problem to poorer countries, many of them developing nations without proper waste management systems. Since 1992, China alone has imported a cumulative 45% of total plastic waste. As China grows greener and greener, however, it is also growing wearier and wearier of disposing of foreign waste. In January 2018, China enacted a plastic waste import ban, effectively outlawing twenty-four kinds of secondary raw materials intended for recycling, a move which has upended the global recycling industry.

What can be done? In this lecture, Arvea Marieni argues that the solution requires a paradigm shift, a transition from a ‘linear’ to a ‘circular’ economy in which raw material use is drastically cut and reuse exponentially increased. To achieve this, both incremental and ground-breaking innovations are required in the fields of recycling, waste management, materials, product design and energy. Furthermore, actions need to be coordinated at the international level. Towards this end, China and the European Union (EU), world leaders in circular economy policy, took a great leap forward in July this year, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation at the 20th EU-China Summit in Beijing. Transition to a circular economy in two of the world’s largest economies could accelerate adoption of circular economy practices at a global scale, creating potential for a ‘system shift’ towards a low carbon, regenerative economy.

Arvea MARIENI (安薇薇)

Strategic Advisor and Innovation Consultant

As a Principal Consultant at GcM Consulting Srl, Arvea is a renowned expert in the field of environmental technologies, specialising in China-Europe cooperation. She is fluent in several languages, including Mandarin, and has extensive professional experience in R&D innovation projects, PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships), start-ups and market development.

She partners with Corrado Clini (formerly Italy’s Minister for the Environment) to advise clients in the areas of strategy and operations in green-tech markets, as well as in his role on the advisory board of the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organisation (GEIDCO). Initiated by Liu Zhenya, former head of China’s State Grid Corporation, the Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) is a flagship project for the energy transition and renewable energies, the initial feasibility conclusions of which were presented by President Xi Jinping at the United Nations in 2015.

Arvea recently served as Strategy Advisor to the CEO of Evac, market leader in waste management and water treatment solutions, in which capacity she was invited to join the Finnish Prime Minister’s delegation to Beijing in June 2017.

She was formerly marketing manager and programme leader at AREA Science Park (Italy’s largest and most important science and technology park), where she had full responsibility for ENERPLAN, AREA’s flagship innovation plan covering renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions. She has held positions of progressive responsibility in the waste management industry, setting up the German subsidiary of an Italian recycling company, leading market entry and development in China and Europe and managing sales operations. She is currently working on the introduction of innovative Italian plastic waste reprocessing technologies into China.

A keynote speaker at industry conferences, she is also a regular contributor to media outlets, such as,, and New Europe, and her work has been featured by China Daily, RAI, Radio InBLue and others.