- Residents marching against a waste-to-energy incinerator is a reminder that the mainland needs to fast-track waste-sorting and recycling efforts
Street protests by thousands of residents in central China offer a compelling reminder that the mainland needs to fast-track waste-sorting and recycling efforts.
They have been demonstrating with banners and chants against a waste-to-energy incinerator that they fear could be built near their homes in Yangluo, near Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.
Residents were prompted to march by plans to build the plant on a landfill site that they had expected would be turned into a public park.
They have not been convinced by a letter from the Xinzhou district government saying a site for the incinerator had yet to be finalised and demolition work on the landfill site was for a rail project.
Regardless of plans for the site, the issue provides an urgent context to Shanghai's introduction of compulsory household garbage sorting, ahead of a national law to regulate it.
The country's top legislature considered a bill late last month. Garbage sorting is essential to an effective recycling regime. Otherwise a lot of rubbish that can be recycled is burned, often close to population centres. This in turn helps to explain the incinerator protest in Yangluo.
Whereas the authorities could once just go ahead with unpopular projects like incinerators or chemical plants and face down opposition, officials now understand the need to engage the public and to reconsider when there are strong and reasonable objections from local communities.
The Yangluo protests are an example of how mainland officials are becoming more responsive to local opposition.
Thousands protest in central China over waste incineration plant
Garbage will be an abiding issue. The volume in China is already estimated to be on a par with the United States, but given its population and economic growth, it is projected to match the waste of the US and Europe combined within 10 years.
That is why China has banned the importation of other countries' garbage and is pushing waste sorting for recycling and other alternatives to environmentally sensitive incineration, which tends to be located near developed areas to avoid long transport distances.
Despite huge investment in research, recycling around the world is still developing. Meanwhile, classification of garbage has become a bottleneck, which is why Shanghai has taken the initiative to push for change.
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