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Guangzhou residents protest incinerator, 2009
According to state reports, the city of Guangzhou released plans for a trash incinerator in the neighborhood of Panyu in 2006. The trash incinerator was planned by local officials as a means to replace two over-flowing landfills and meet the waste needs of the 2.5 million residents around Panyu.
When plans were further publicized in fall 2009, local residents insisted that it was the first time they were hearing of the project. Local polls indicate that over 95% of residents were opposed to the construction of the plant.
Dissent spread quickly amongst the population, who relied heavily on micro blogs, texting, and photo posts to spread information. The timeline and leadership of the organization of this dissent is unknown.
On Monday morning, 23 November 2009, hundreds of local residents, largely middle-class and young students, gathered at Guangzhou City Hall. Approximately 200 petitions against the proposed incinerator were delivered, and a number of residents began a sit-in. By mid-day local bloggers estimated the crowds reached 800 people.
Protesters had pre-printed signs and slogans. A popular image of a gas-masked protester and sign stating “Oppose garbage burning, protect the environment instead," was spread by bloggers and became an image of the protest. Other slogans called on officials to “Protect Panyu.” Some protesters called on local government leader, Lu Zhiyi, to step down.
Local government officials ordered approximately 100 police officers to the scene, and some reports indicate that these officers forcibly dispersed the crowds with riot shields once they began chanting for Lu Zhiyi to step down.
At some time during the day, government officials declared that further research was needed to determine the environmental impact of a trash incinerator at the proposed site. Officials also promised residents that a public forum would be opened for residents to voice their concerns. By the end of the day the protesters had largely dispersed.
In April 2011, the Guangzhou municipal government released the names of five possible sites for the incinerator within Panyu, but insisted that all care for the environment and public well-being would be considered. The Deputy District Executive of Panyu, Dai Youhua said in a press conference, "We promise to use the best technology and facilities. We promise to prioritize the interests of local residents. And we promise strict management and supervision." The five sites being considered included abandoned rock quarries and empty lots, but concern remained for the effect of fumes on the local resident population. In order for the construction project to remain on track, a final decision on location would occur by 2012.
Though not incredibly successful in the long run, the 2009 protest in Guangzhou was one of the most visible environmental protests in China following the successful closure of a chemical plant in Xiamen in 2007 (see “Chinese residents force relocation of chemical plant in Xiamen, 2007”), and is considered to be the inspiration for some of the “not-in-my-backyard” grassroots environmental protests in 2010 and 2011.