Stink of Guangzhou garbage plan refuses to go away
Hundreds of residents of Qingyuan and Guangzhou took to the streets on June 10 to protest against a plan to build a garbage incinerator in Guangzhou's Huadu district, close to Qingyuan.
It was one of the largest protests against government plans to build incinerators in Guangzhou, but just over a week later the standing committee of the city's people's congress confirmed plans to build five garbage incinerators by 2015, with one of three planned for Huadu to be completed by 2014.
The government has cut the number of incinerators it plans to build by 2015 from six to five, and reduced its daily-capacity target from 15,000 tonnes to 11,000 tonnes, but public opposition remains widespread.
The city already has one incinerator, in Likeng, in the northern district of Baiyun, which handles 1,000 tonnes of refuse each day. Most of the rest of the 18,000 tonnes of waste the city produces each day ends up buried in landfills, which, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily, already contain 40 million tonnes of garbage.
While the scaling back of the city's incineration plans can be viewed as official acknowledgement of public concerns, the government remains resolute in its determination to promote the burning of refuse both to solve its waste problem and to generate electricity.
Xu Jianyun, a deputy director of Guangzhou's Urban Management Committee who is in charge of building waste-treatment facilities, told the Southern Metropolis Daily that the city would create 20,000 tonnes of refuse a day by 2020 and had to reduce the amount being sent to landfills.
But the public has concerns, with people complaining the incinerators will be built close to communities and could pose serious threats to residents' health and the environment. There are nine villages and several residential communities within 2.5 kilometres of the proposed Huadu plant, the Nanfang Daily reported.
Arguments over whether Guangzhou should have incinerators, and, if so, where, have been going on since 2009. Besides concerns over health and green issues, some people also doubt the government's integrity, and worry about back-room deals.
According to the government plan, incinerator operators will receive a 110 yuan (HK$134) subsidy for each tonne of household garbage burned. In the June 10 protest, people complained about a lack of openness in the bidding process and the selection of operators.
In 2009, when the Guangzhou Guangri Group obtained the right to operate the city's first incinerator, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported rumours that the brother of Lu Zhiyi, deputy general secretary of the Guangzhou city government, held a senior position in the group. It also reported that the group had given two cars to the leaders of the Urban Management Committee.
The only response from the city government was that if special interests had been favoured, the city's discipline-inspection commission would have stepped in to investigate the matter.
Selecting sites for garbage incinerators is not an easy job for any government. Hardly any have been built in the US for more than 15 years, The New York Times has reported. But Guangzhou residents are also entitled to open and thorough hearings and reviews before the government makes decisions on incinerators.
Independent and trustworthy third-party organisations should be appointed to assess the impact of such projects on nearby residents, and in particular the risks associated with dioxin, a cancer-causing by-product of incineration.
The city government also needs to answer doubts about the fairness of the bidding process and about just how clean its own hands are.
Only if it wins people's trust will the Guangzhou government be able to deal with the stink created by its plans for the city's garbage.