With the rapid growth of highway mileage and vehicles, the Chinese highway traffic system (HTS) has become one of the great resource consumers. This article attempts to evaluate the material metabolism of China's HTS during 2001–2005 using the approach of material flow analysis (MFA) and to explore possible measures to promote circular economy throughout HTS.
We measured a set of indicators to illustrate the whole material metabolism of China's HTS. The results indicated that the direct material input (DMI) of China's HTS increased from 1181.26 million tonnes (Mt) in 2001 to 1,874.57 Mt in 2005, and about 80% of DMI was accumulated in the system as infrastructure and vehicles. The domestic processed output (DPO) increased by 59.0% from 2001 to 2005. Carbon dioxide and solid waste accounted for 80.5% and 10.4% of DPO, respectively. The increase of resource consumption and pollutant emissions kept pace with the growth of transportation turnover. All these suggest that China's HTS still followed an extensive linear developing pattern with large resource consumption and heavy pollution emissions during the study period, which brought great challenges to the resources and the environment. Therefore, it's high time for China to implement a circular economy throughout the HTS by instituting resource and energy savings, by reducing emissions in the field of infrastructure construction and maintenance, by reducing vehicles’ energy and materials consumption, and by recycling waste materials.