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Protests predicted at Beijing’s plan to add incinerators

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Protests predicted at Beijing’s plan to add incinerators

Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am



Government says sector will be worth trillions but activists warn move to burn mainland’s rubbish mountains will leave residents fuming

The number of waste incinerators will rise sharply under a national plan to boost investment in environmental protection industries, but environmental activists warn the move could lead to more mass protests as the public grows increasingly concerned about health impacts. State Council announced on Sunday the environmental sector would become a “pillar industry”. It set a 15 per cent annual growth target for energy-saving and environmental protection industries that would see turnover reach 4.5 trillion yuan (HK$5.7 trillion) by 2015.

Promising government subsidies, tax breaks, and stricter environmental standards, the plan also details key technologies that will be championed by authorities to improve energy efficiency and tackle pollution.

Large-scale incinerators with a daily burning capacity above 300 tonnes are on the shopping list to tackle a looming garbage crisis in many cities. The central government aims to incinerate up to 35 per cent of household waste by 2015, up from about 18 per cent in 2011.

Urban rubbish treatment capacity will be expanded to 870,000 tonnes a day by 2015, from 513,000 tonnes per day at the end of 2011, based on statistics from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

According to rough estimates, the number of incinerators on the mainland could double to about 300 to meet such targets.

Mao Da, a researcher at Beijing Normal University of solid-waste treatment, said the waste incineration industry had been on fast track in recent years, but authorities were still turning a blind eye to public concerns over such projects.

Waste incineration is often associated with high emissions of dioxin gases, which are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer, according to the World Health Organisation.

Chen Liwen , of the Beijing-based green organisation Nature University, pointed out that mainland incinerators had been the subject of protests.

Last month, Guangzhou residents staged three rallies against a proposed refuse incinerator in the city’s Huadu district, with the largest meeting attracting more than 10,000 protestors.

“There is a prevailing public mistrust towards the government over incinerators,” said Chen, who has surveyed residents living close to incinerators in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Hangzhou .

Their greatest area of doubt is governments’ safety claims regarding incinerators, Chen said. Residents were concerned about operational and management loopholes that could lead to emissions of toxic gases, even though operators of most of the mainland’s incinerators insist they’re using technologies on par with developed countries.

The reluctance of operators and the authorities overseeing them to publish data on emissions only heightened the public’s fears, she added.

Residents living close to two incinerators, in Hangzhou and Guangzhou, were already blaming them for rising cancer rates, but the local governments had not launched public inquiries into the claims.

“As long as authorities fail to address these public concerns, the new push for the industry may lead to more mass protests in the years to come,” Chen said.

Mao said the lack of adequate supervision of incinerators said big new investment in them could result in a surge in emissions of dioxins and heavy metals, such as mercury. Some studies already confirmed such a trend of rising dioxin emissions between 2004 and 2010.

“This actually violates the nation’s pledge under various international environmental treaties to gradually cut emissions of dioxin and mercury,” Mao said.

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