International Environment Reporter™ helps you understand environmental laws, regulations, policies and trends in major industrialized and developing nations, as well as in international governmental...
Nov. 23 — About a dozen people sat at the back of a courtroom in Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court in early November, hoping their complaint against the municipal government to release documentation related to environmental impact assessments and planning for what will be the largest incinerator in the world would get a fair hearing.
The lawyer representing a group of Shenzhen citizens has given a vigorous defense of their right to review the information during most of the hearing, while the lawyer representing the Shenzhen government has been on the defensive, mainly using procedural arguments to block its release.
A group of citizens and their online compatriots have paid for their lawyer—known as a firebrand who has won similar cases in the past—by raising about 300,000 yuan ($43,500) in a crowdfunding campaign.
After two hours of deliberation, the three-judge panel said it would issue a ruling at a later date.
Residents have been trying for three years to stop construction of the Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant. The incinerator is being built in a valley near three major reservoirs that provide water for the Longgang district and other parts of Shenzhen. Once completed, around 2020, the plant will be able to burn about 5,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste a day.
Li Zhixuan, a local housewife who has been one of the most active opponents of the project, said the Shenzhen government is protecting the Shenzhen Energy Environmental Protection Co., the project’s owner and operator, and not thinking about the concerns of residents or what they say are irreversible impacts on the environment.
“If we get the documents released, we will find the loopholes and file more cases,” Li told Bloomberg BNA outside the courtroom on Nov. 8. “Our goal is to stop this incinerator from being built.”
Li, who lives about eight miles from the Shenzhen East project, is concerned about the reservoirs near the site that could be contaminated by airborne pollutants, as well as leaching from toxic fly ash that will be landfilled at the site. In addition, carbon emissions are expected to increase.
She hopes the city will adopt more distributed waste processing practices, expand recycling and resorting policies and avoid incineration altogether.
“This is not simply a NIMBY [not in my backyard] issue,” Li said. “There are a lot of very real concerns behind it.”
Li also wonders about the incinerator’s location. “Internationally, incinerators are usually being built in remote areas, not right next to reservoirs. There are better options near Shenzhen where they could have located it,” she said.
Zhang Jingning, a representative of the a nongovernmental organization Wuhu Ecological Center told Bloomberg BNA that village commissions usually oppose new incinerator projects, because they are concerned about pollution and property values, among other factors. But sometimes village commissions oppose projects in an effort to increase the compensation they get for requisitioned lands.
China currently has around 230 operating incinerators and another 100 under construction, according to Zhang. Most facilities have done a poor job disclosing emissions data, she said.
China is making a concerted effort to reduce emissions and toughen air pollution standards. The Ministry of Environmental Protection’s latest incinerator standards, released in July 2014, went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, and include higher standards for conventional pollutants and dioxin.
A waste-to-energy incinerator study that the NGO released in early 2016, found that 70 percent of the 76 facilities studied released emissions data and only 48.7 percent of those met the latest emissions standards.
According to the study, in many cases burning units had become corroded because of poor classification and separation practices and emissions were not curtailed because workers were not operating desulfurization or denitrification technology properly.
“We think incineration is like treating a fever with medicine, it doesn’t get to the root cause,” Zhang said. “China’s government sees that residential waste continues to grow, so they want to build more incinerators. Taiwan faced a similar problem before, but they decided to spend more on sorting and recycling waste. We think there should also be a push for sorting-and-recycling systems and for reducing waste at the source.”
Yet something needs to be done to address the growing waste problem in Shenzhen and across the China where landfills are at or near capacity, and the central government is pushing incineration as the answer.
Under the current 13th Five-Year Plan (2016–2020), China wants to nearly double daily incineration capacity—from about 233,000 metric tons a day in 2015 to more than 400,000 metric tons a day by the end of 2020.
Local governments see incineration, particularly waste-to-energy projects, which burn trash to produce usable electricity, as a way to deal with the explosion of waste while also meeting local energy needs.
But opposition to new incinerators has led to massive and sometimes violent protests across China, most recently in Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong provinces.
Hundreds of villagers from near the area of the Shenzhen East project protested in front of the municipal government building earlier this year, leading to dozens of arrests. Sit-ins also have been held at district offices in Longgang and the neighboring Dapeng district.
Like many major eastern cities, Shenzhen is reaching a crisis point in dealing with municipal waste, despite already having 10 operating incinerators, five of which burn municipal solid waste to generate electricity.
The South China municipality just north of Hong Kong produced 15,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste a day in 2015, with that total expected to reach 20,000 metric tons a day by 2020, according to the local government. The city’s three major landfills are now operating at overcapacity, and nearby residents regularly complain of the stench.
By expanding garbage-sorting practices and completing the Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant, the city can reach a rate of nearly zero residential waste being landfilled by 2020, according to the municipal solid waste treatment plan.
A Shenzhen urban planner interviewed by Bloomberg BNA in September who did not want his name used for this article, said garbage-sorting policies were not “efficient enough to cut down the amount of garbage” and if incinerators could be built to high standards, “there is not much to worry about.”
But that still may not be enough. Shenzen could “delay” the landfill problem for five to 10 years this way, but then another batch of incinerators would be needed, the planner said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at email@example.com
Shenzhen plan on incinerator projects through 2020 is available, in Chinese, at http://src.bna.com/keg.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)