Thousands of people clashed over the weekend with hundreds of police on the streets of the tourist city of Yuhang, a satellite of the larger coastal city of Hangzhou, in protest of the construction of a new waste incinerator plant. State media reported that at least ten people and 29 police injured, with one policeman and one protestor seriously injured. But the show of strength seemingly accomplished its goal, as the local government acquiesced to public pressure late Saturday and agreed to immediately halt construction. The FT reports:
The project, by Hangzhou Chengtou Group, a city-owned infrastructure company, would be the largest waste incinerator in Asia if completed. Its first phase would process about 3,000 tons of waste a day, or roughly one-third of the city’s rubbish. […]Residents near existing incinerators in Hangzhou sometimes complain of smells late at night. “We are worried that the waste incinerator will pollute the air and contaminate the water supply,” said Ai Binke, who lives in the city.
Waste incinerators accomplish two very important tasks for growing cities like Hangzhou: they get rid of trash, and they produce energy. Waste isn’t the most efficient energy source; it takes roughly five times as much trash to produce the same amount of energy that burning coal produces. But for many city planners, it’s better than nothing. There’s an international precedent for this, too. Other cities like Amsterdam have successfully deployed waste-to-energy plants.But the Hangzhou residents’ suspicion is warranted, given China’s abysmal environmental track record. These protests are the latest example of a restive Chinese population rising up against local governments in protest of the country’s deadly pollution problem. The success Saturday in Yuhang will embolden other urbanites wrestling with similarly difficult costs of growth across China. China’s leaders have more reason now than ever before to throw themselves in to their so-called “war on pollution.” If they don’t fight the costs of unrestrained growth, they might be fighting their own people.