China: Plenty of trash to burn

Between Western imports and domestic consumption, trash landfills in several cities are now quickly running out of space [zh]. Trash-to-energy incineration plants have been in use for several years, and while now banned from urban areas, continue however to be a cause of concern for urban residential communities.


Southern Metropolis Daily journalist Liu Tianzhao has been paying the issue attention recently on Twitter after her work was harmonized [zh] pre-publication, noting that regulations passed last year require new incineration plants built over the next three years [zh] to maintain a buffer safety zone of no less than 300 meters and, in one Bullogger post, quotes [zh] two Chinese specialists on the risks and specific challenges faced in seeking to reduce the release of dioxins while incinerating Chinese trash.

She also notes [zh] that 20 trash-to-energy incinerators will be built in coastal Fujian province alone over the next three years, each with a capacity to reduce harmful emissions to that of 70% of international standards.

This tweet she directed at social critic and active Twitter user Lian Yue, who lives in Fujian. He in turn notes that various departments offer incentives to encourage the building of trash incinerator plants—a sign, Lian Yue morbidly points out, that bodies such as the National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Environmental Protection aren't just incapable of curbing pollution, but in fact benefit from the failure to do so.

Earlier this year, the government in Panyu district in southern China's Guangzhou announced the planned construction of a trash incineration plant which has given rise to much local controversy. As Yangcheng Evening News blogger Mo Ke writes, the plant will likely already be up and operating by this time next year:



Urban waste is a global problem, and we are no exception. According to head of the Panyu district government Ministry of Forests, Panyu faces becoming a city besieged by garbage, and that dealing with the garbage cannot be put off anymore. I hope construction begins after National Day, the sooner the better. At the same time, the relevant authorities have solemnly sworn that the technology used in this trash incineration project will be advanced and time-tested and that the amount of dioxins released by the trash incineration will be extremely small, will not create any environmental pollution, that the location chosen for this project really was “the optimal choice”, and that they hope residents will not only see the trash incineration plant as a plight on the community. According to reports, the project is now undergoing an environmental impact assessment. The land has already been cleared and some compensation has already been delivered. People are rushing to judgment before they've had a chance to see the outcome.

The relevant authorities have also stated that “this will absolutely not be a polluting project”, but even so, this is not enough to ease or dispel the high degree of anxiety the tens of thousands of residents from the surrounding area have that this project will create pollution and pose a threat to their health and livelihood.

实际上,周边居民对垃圾焚烧厂的担忧并不多余。二噁英是国际公认的一级污染物,是毒性最大的化合物之一,其毒性是氰化物的130倍、砒霜的 900倍,国际癌症研究中心已将其列为人类一级致癌物。即使是微量的二噁英也对人体有害。而就目前技术而言,垃圾焚烧项目事实上也并非如官方所说的那样环保、安全,即使在学术研究层面上,也存在巨大争议乃至截然相反的观点和结论。美国环境健康基金全球化学安全项目总监约瑟夫·迪冈认为,垃圾焚烧炉是产生二噁英的重要途径之一。而目前国际上对二噁英的实时监测尚是难题。英国伯明翰大学环境化学高级讲师斯图尔特·哈瑞说,对二噁英的实时监测,虽有很多研究,但他认为到现在还是不可能的,“现在最快的监测速度只能做到12个小时,且非常难做到。”

In fact, the concern surrounding residents have regarding this trash incineration plant is not unwarranted. Dioxins are internationally recognized as a high-level pollutant, with one of the highest toxicity of all compounds, 130 times more toxic than cyanide and 900 times more toxic than arsenic, and are listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a level one carcinogen. Even trace amounts of dioxins can cause harm to the body. And with regards to current technology, trash incineration plants in fact aren't as environmentally sound and safe as officials have made them out to be; even within academic research on the subject, major disputes and even sharply contrasting views and conclusions exist. In the view of Joseph DiGangi, PhD, director of the global chemical safety program with the U.S. Environmental Health Fund, trash incineration is one of the main sources of dioxin creation. Further, real-time monitoring of dioxins remains a problem worldwide. Senior lecturer in environmental chemistry at the University of Birmingham Stuart Harrad has said that despite all the research into the subject, real-time monitoring of dioxins is still impossible: “currently, the fastest monitoring can be done is within 12 hours, and even that is extremely difficult.”

With the Panyu incinerator located just a few kilometers from several of the largest residential communities in Guangzhou, as NetEase reports, tens of thousands of homeowners in the area now oppose the plant's imminent launch; comments on that report included:


1. Dealing with trash isn't the problem
The problem is the manner in which it's done
Why does the public always have to be kept in the dark?

2. If a liar cheats you 1000 times then announces will henceforth speak the truth
Who will believe him?


Dealing with problems like this is simple
We've all heard this story: during a meal, a customer finds a fly in the food and calls the boss over. To show there's no problem, the boss snaps it up and eats it.
The shareholders all live in Panyu anyway, so put them up in the surrounding buildings; this'll solve the problem of worker benefits, and will stimulate the local real estate market, as well as putting people at ease…one stone, many birds.


Tell Zhang Guangning to move his mom into the plant area


Actually, homeowners are just afraid their properties will stop appreciating after this.


The head of the Panyu district Ministry of Forests, Zhou Jianhui, he hopes to start construction as soon as possible.
And can you guess who the incineration plant belongs to?


I think this is just yet another example of how ignorant, incompetent and short-sighted the government is!
Panyu is full of uninhabited land, do they really need to build a trash incineration plant right in the middle of the heavily developed part of north Panyu? The only reason they're building it there is because shipping costs will be low! If you look at a map you can see that right in the area are residences, the new train station, Panyu's business and tourism district, the district that in about eight years is supposed to be as developed as central Tianhe is now!
Just think about it, would it make sense to build a trash incineration plant right beside bustling Beijing Road?
And they're gonna move it in five years?
Isn't this a waste of taxpayers’ money?

[listing all the large residential communities in the vicinity] 真不知是番禺的那些专家选的地址.环保所的局长一定不在附近居住.既然最先选择了开发这一地区(广州新客站)为什么又要去破坏这一地方呢(垃圾焚烧厂)…………..请各位领导再仔细考虑考虑.既生俞,何生亮呀!

I just don't get how those experts in Panyu chose this location. I guarantee the head of the environmental ministry doesn't live anywhere nearby.
Since they chose this spot early on for development with the new Guangzhou train and bus station, why now are they going to ruin it with a trash incineration plant?……….please, leaders, think about this very, very carefully.
We never win!


If people can't accept it then they can just wait. When there's no place left to put their trash, just let it pile up, then they'll be begging for the plant to be built.


Build it, but don't treat public health like a joke. There's so much empty land that could have been used, but instead they chose a dense residential area!!! And it's not just Panyu's trash, they have to take on Guangzhou's trash as well! Heh, people will be coming out of the biggest train station in Asia, only to say, wow! Guangzhou's “chimney” is amazing!! We welcome everyone to come to Asia's biggest train and get baptized in dioxins!!!


I work in the environmental protection field, have for eight years, and have worked on countless emission treatment projects, so I know a bit about these kinds of projects both in-country and abroad, and I've never worked on or seen one that's achieved 100% efficiency in environmental protection. At most they can only lessen the pollution, which makes me wonder if our specialists have any conscience at all? This one hasn't even been built yet, and already they dare say that it will be “pollution-free”? All I can say is that these bloody specialists only speak for money, for the trash generator's state subsidies. What's more, even with backing from authorities, there are barely any state-owned enterprises that can truly say that they are environmentally sound, because they are all in bed with the bodies that supervise them. I strongly oppose this.


Close to a venue for next year's Asian Games, close to the soon-to-be-built new train and provincial bus station, close to dense residential areas, has this self-destructive decision to build a trash incineration plant in the future new downtown area of Guangzhou come from Guanzhou's municipal leaders? Are you trying to score political points, or destroy your own political careers? This is too stupid!

“What shall we do with the garbage?” asks China Dialogue author Huo Weiya in a piece on Beijing's own trash troubles. “Burning them is not the end of the story.”


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