A burning question is causing protests and besieging environmental officials in Hangzhou — whether to put garbage in landfills or to incinerate it.
The Hangzhou government plans to establish a huge waste incinerator but locals are saying no, fearing serious pollution. First there was a petition, then a rally involving thousands of people. Last Saturday there was blood.
About 10 protestors and 30 police officers were injured during clashes at the rally against the incinerator, which is planned for Jiufeng Hill in Zhongtai Town, in the Yuhang District of Hangzhou. The protest forced officials to close the highway linking Hangzhou and Huizhou in Anhui Province for 90 minutes. Protestors set fire to police cars and damaged other vehicles.
Local police said yesterday that 53 people were detained for disturbing public order. They iterated that those who defaced public property, injured others and spread rumors during the protest should surrender. So far, 11 have surrendered to the police.
Saturday’s rally was not the first protest against the project, and more than 20,000 people have signed a petition against it since last month.
Local authorities maintain that little pollution will be emitted from the plant, because its air, water and residue will be controlled according to the strict international protocols (namely Directive 2000/76/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 December 2000 on the Incineration of Waste). But the local population is not buying it.
“I believe that incineration technology is adequate today, but I doubt the location the government picked,” said a resident of Zhongtai Town who took part in the protest but did not want his real name used.
The incinerator, which would cover more than 100,000 square meters, is planned in a wasted mine in Jiufeng Hill, to the west of urban Hangzhou and about 25 kilometers away from the city center. It is about 3 kilometers from Qingshan Lake Reservoir, 7 kilometers from the under-construction Xianlin Reservoir and not far from Nantiao Stream, a main water source for Yuhang District.
Residents who live and work in western parts of Hangzhou began the protests.
They claim that the huge plant will lead to pollution of water and air and that it will spread to the entire city.
The Yuhang government relented somewhat late Sunday, promising that “the Jiufeng project will not start without people’s understanding and support,” and “locals are invited to participate in the project, and the government will listen to people’s suggestion.”
However, Xu Yi, deputy mayor of Hangzhou, also said, “It’s not possible for us not to produce wastes, and it’s not possible for the city not to build a refuse-processing plant.”
An environmental impact assessment of the plant is being undertaken by the Hangzhou Environmental Protection Bureau, but protestors are insisting that a third party or a foreign organization do the job.
“We doubt whether the plant will strictly follow the EU directive as it promised,” said another protestor who required to remain anonymous.
The protesters cite precedent for their concerns. Hangzhou’s existing Binjiang Waste Incineration Plant stands south in Binjiang District, and nearby residents have complained about its stinky smell. The Hangzhou Environmental Protection Bureau has responded on its official website that the facility’s “pollutants in the air from emissions meet the current national standard.”
“We smell a stench in the daytime and it gets stronger at night, because the plant mainly operates at night,” said a villager surnamed Chen in Shan’er Village, just 500 meters from the plant.
At the plant and in the village, a Shanghai Daily journalist could smell the odor as well, which sometimes resembles rotten eggs.
Locals said that “one third of villagers have moved away,” pointing to those who were wealthy enough to do it.
There are problems with vegetable production, as well. “People don’t buy our produce, and we have to eat them all,” said an older female villager also surnamed Chen.
Smell alone does not necessarily make the air harmful to human health, but Chen Yong, an environmental expert from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said: “People are not aware of (the pollution) index, but they can smell, so the government needs to supervise the smell problem first.”
According to the government, less than 300 meters away from Jiufeng there are 25 farm households, and the nearest residential apartment is 5 kilometers away.
“I hope the government can help me move my house if they want to build that plant in my backyard,” said Ma Mu, a villager living at the foot of Jiufeng Hill.
Hangzhou is facing a deadline of sorts because the largest landfill — Tianziling Landfill — will be completely full in five years. The landfill, established in 1991, receives about 5,000 tons of waste a day.
The city produces about 8,000 tons of waste daily, and this number increases 10 percent each year. Apart from Tianziling Landfill, there are four other incineration plants and one landfill in Hangzhou.
Dioxin and garbage sorting
“Hangzhou only has one Tianziling, and no other place in the city can be made into a landfill in the size of Tianziling,” said Lu Jun, general manager of the Hangzhou Environment Group that runs Tianziling Landfill.
The government plans for Hangzhou to have refuse-disposal sites in each direction from the city. The Jiufeng Hill incinerator is the one in the west. A smaller incineration plant is planned for Tianziling in the future, as well.
Another big concern for residents is dioxin, a highly toxic compound generated during combustion processes such as waste incineration. Whether or not dioxin can be controlled if garbage is not sorted before it’s burned is an open question.
“Garbage sorting is not the premise of incineration,” said Zhang Yi, director of the Shanghai Environmental Sanitation Engineering Design Institute. He said the techniques planned for the Jiufeng incineration plant are advanced enough to avoid pollution, and that dioxin release would be in such minimal amounts that “under this technology it will only harm the body when one is exposed to the air for tens of thousands of years.”
Not all experts agree.
“That’s not OK to burn everything together, because hazardous substances can be brought out into the air,” said Zhong Ling, CEO and owner of Lingtek Consulting, a firm in Sweden that serves mainly as a bridge between Sweden and China in the field of clean-tech and sustainability businesses.
“Sorting is necessary to avoid hazardous chemicals — for example paints and batteries that can be dangerous,” she said. “The high temperature, 850 degrees Celsius minimum, is to ensure that ordinary wastes can be well burned, like paper and plastic things.”
Another consultant agreed.
“It is not easy to control the temperature if everything is burned together,” said Zhang Rongrong, a consultant for Hangzhou Greentech Innovation Co, a New Zealand and China joint venture firm. “Because different objects owns different caloricity (ability to maintain heat), it might lead to falling temperatures, and dioxin comes out when the temperature is between 700 and 900 degrees Celsius.”
“Though modern technology is adequate today to incinerate different stuff, like kitchen waste containing much water and plastic together at a very high temperature, it costs a lot to maintain the incineration,” she added.
No matter how, garbage sorting should be encouraged because it can effectively reduce the amount of garbage, and because “we don’t need to waste wastes,” said Zhong.
Yet even though the city launched garbage sorting in 2010, the result is unsatisfactory. “About 70 percent communities are not sorting wastes correctly,” said Lu Jun of the Hangzhou Environment Group.
According to a poll conducted by the municipal government last year, more than 60 percent of locals said they were unsure how to properly sort their garbage. For example, some thought that milk cartons were not recyclable, and some thought peanut shells were not kitchen garbage.
Source: Shanghai Daily