Thousands protest in central China over waste incineration plant

Zhuang Pinghui

Thousands of people took to the streets in central China on Thursday night in a seventh day of protests against the construction of a waste incineration plant.

Protesters carried banners and chanted as they marched against a waste-to-energy plant that could be built next to residential areas in Yangluo, near Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

Residents were angered by plans to build the plant on a garbage landfill site that had been expected to be turned into a public park.

They shouted slogans such as “Return us the green mountain and clear waters” and “Garbage burning plant get lost from Yangluo”.

Riot police move in as protests continue in Yangluo on Thursday. Photo: Handout

A letter to the public by the Xinzhou district government on Wednesday had urged people “not to listen to or spread rumours”, and said that a location had yet to be finalised for the plant.

“What is rumoured online to be the garbage burning project that has already started is in fact demolition work for a railway construction project,” the letter said.

Converting waste to energy by burning it has been adopted in China as an alternative to burying rubbish in landfill sites – which causes pollution and requires a lot of land – but it has been widely resisted because of fears that it is a health hazard. Large protests against incinerators have been held in recent years in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Hubei, Beijing and Guangdong.

“For years we had to put up with the disgusting smell of the garbage burial site, and we were all glad when we heard it would end next year,” said a 24-year-old protester in Yangluo, who declined to be named for fear of the consequences. “All of a sudden, the park is gone and a garbage burning site will be put there. Nobody can bear it.

“We understand the need to dispose of garbage in an environmentally friendly way, but does it have to be that close to our homes? Two universities and more than 10 residential areas are within a 3km radius,” said the man, referring to the Wuhan University of Bioengineering and Wuhan Engineering Institute.

Yangluo, designated as an economic and technology development area, is 30km (18.6 miles) northeast of downtown Wuhan and has a population of 300,000. The incineration plant would handle 2,000 tonnes of waste per day, the Wuhan urban management committee said last month.

Residents asked about the progress of the project in early June and were told that the authorities were still choosing a site.

Protests broke out last Friday after rumours spread that the project had already started – forcing the district government to say on Saturday that it would “not start without approval from the public”.

Nonetheless, thousands of protesters – about 10,000, according to one source – marched on Saturday and Sunday, leading to some arrests, although those detained at the weekend had since been released, protesters said.

After minor protests on Monday and Tuesday, residents gathered in greater numbers in Yangluo on Wednesday and Thursday nights, met by a heavy police presence.

Chinese town residents clash with riot police over incinerator

Videos seen by the South China Morning Post show hundreds of riot police marching through the streets, equipped with helmets, shields and batons.

The crowd dispersed at about 10pm as police began to round up some protesters. They were taken aboard a coach and two men were handled roughly, the videos showed.

An official from the Xinzhou district government’s publicity department said the project would not begin without public approval and its location had not yet been chosen.

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