Waste Incineration and Environmental Protection

The project below was interviewed during the first phase of our research, in early 2010. We have since determined that it fits more within the categories of general citizen engagement and/or activism in areas outside of transparency and accountability, rather than within the specific criteria we have defined for the purposes of our research.

Quick Look

A community forum brought residents together to protest against construction of a waste incinerator in Guangzhou, China.

Beginning Date: 
October 16, 2009
Annual Budget 2009: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 
Specific Tools: 


In 2007, in an effort to alleviate the increasing problem of garbage surrounding Chinese cities, The National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Construction, and the Ministry of Environmental Production jointly launched the "Eleventh 5-year plan for Intermediate Waste Disposal", specifying that by 2011 the intermediate waste disposal rate in cities should reach 60%. Shortly thereafter major metropolises such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou saw a wave of construction of waste incineration plants. With an estimated total investment of 58.9 billion RMB for the construction and reconstruction of waste disposal facilities, local governments have to find ways to spend the money.

Take Guangzhou for example. In 2006, a waste incinerator was put into use in Li Keng, Baiyun District, taking care of 1/12 of Guangzhou's total waste in. Though the profit from electricity generation by the incinerator can hardly cover the cost, the incinerator's revenue is still steadily growing, mainly because of the extra income from governmental subsidies.

In September, 2009, a local newspaper revealed that another waste incineration plant was to be built in Panyu district, an upper-class, white-collar neighborhood. They panicked when they heard the incinerator project would start right after the national holidays (November 1st-November 7th). As they began to conduct online research, they were astonished to find that the water, air and sound pollution in Li Keng had in fact severely affected its residents. Most dreadfully, the cancer rate had gone abnormally high in Li Keng after 2006, when the incinerator began operation.

The NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) effect soon turned many Panyu residents into activists: They wrote proposals to relevant government departments; they printed T-shirts with slogans and demonstrated in front of the local supermarket, some others participated enthusiastically in a special section on Jiang-Wai-Jiang, the community forum for Lijiang Garden residents, titled "The Waste Incineration and Environment Protection."

These online "concerted forms of responsive action"(Thompson, 1995)on the forum attracted the attention of the traditional media. On October 30th, under the pressure from the continuous reports, the Panyu Municipal government held a press conference, inviting 4 experts to prove that the incinerator would not cause pollution nor health problems. It didn't take long, however, until the citizens found out that one expert was the chief counselor of one of the biggest incinerator manufacturers in the world, and another was making statements contradictory to what was said a few months before.

On the November 5th a third party --- The Guangdong Shengqing Research Center conducted a poll and found out that 97.1% of Panyu residents were opposed to the incinerator project, and almost all of them would a second environmental evaluation if the project passed.

On the November 23rd Panyu's activists were informed from all kinds of channels (the forum, families, friends) that the 23rd of every month is the day when the department head of City Administration Department of the Panyu government received citizens' opinions. More than a thousand gathered outside the government building with banners and masks. Many of the traditional media referred it to "the Guangzhou Stroll."

On the December 20th the Party Committee secretary of Panyu was invited to the community to talk to its residents. He reassured them that construction of the incinerator project had come to a halt. Nevertheless, the second phase construction of the Li Keng Incinerator is still ongoing.

Background of the interviewee: one of the residents in the affected area, one of the major managers of the Jiang-Wai-Jiang Forum and the chief supervisor of the "Waste Incineration and Environmental Protection" special topic.


Date of Audio: 
February 7, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

We are ordinary citizens. We are ordinary residents in the community. The forum, the internet and the search engine are our only sources. Of course, we have a lot of brains. The biggest obstacles are the state power and the immense resource in the control of the government.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

No plan. I am only doing my job as a forum manager. I am opposed the current mode of incineration. What I can do is to tell my friends and discuss these issues with them. As for the whole anti-incineration group, all we can do are: 1) inform, intrigue, and engage more people in the anti-incineration issue and 2) continuously tell the government what we want.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

There were too many concerned residents from the community, and there were too many threads of the same topic on the forum. The original location of the incinerator is only 3.5 kilometers from us. This makes the Lijiang Garden and some communities in the neighborhood very nervous.

I started the special topic to better manage the forum, and I did not hope that it might solve real problems. Of course, every participant hoped that the individual efforts could, to a certain extent, solve some problems. The most immediate goal was to stop the construction of the Panyu incinerator, which we achieved in the end. The ultimate goal involved incinerators in the entire Guangzhou City: The incinerators under planning should be canceled; the incinerators under construction should be halted; the incinerators in operation should be stopped before they have better management. The NIMBY effect triggered us to care about other incinerators in the city. There was another one that has been in the 4th year of operation but most people didn't even have a clue. I didn't have a clue. Only after we started to look up the related information can we see that it was not right. This was a widely shared reaction. We did not pay attention until we were faced with the same problem. After we communicated with each other, we learnt the gravity of the case. We prioritized the Panyu incinerator, but at the same time we realized if the incinerator should not be at our back yard, it should neither be in other's back yards. The whole incident was started by NIMBY effect, and now it moved in the direction of environmental protection and advocacy.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

Interest. First I have to admit that the waste disposal problem is a global problem; it widely exists not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries. This is the reality we have to face. But there was billions, even tens of billions of financial interest involved in deciding the location and specific disposal method. After collective analysis, I am not saying it was the real hidden reason we came to a common understanding. There is a waste landfill that has been in use for 8 years in the nearby Huijiang Village. After the land-fill meets its capacity, the land will have no other use but to be covered up by trees and grass. Neither residential nor industrial building can be built on it, so the land cannot be sold at a good price. Though it's true that this district is growing very fast, we are certain that there can be other options regarding the location of incinerator. The fact is, the government is reluctant to build the incinerator in the less developed areas. The reason is obvious, the government has to take into consideration of the prospect price of the land surrounding the incinerator. Given that there is not much land to be developed near the Huijiang Village, Huijiang becomes the perfect location.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

I am one of the forum managers. It is my responsibility to do page settings (including setting up special topics) On the personal level, I do not want them to build the incinerator in this neighborhood, neither do I want them to build incinerators in any other place.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

Basically most of the information communicated on the platform is nonofficial. The government at an early stage insisted in building the waste incineration plant; it is included in the general planning of Guangzhou City. The government has signed a contract with Huijiang Village and it has paid a considerable amount of compensation. Therefore, the information on the forum has to be mostly nonofficial. However, nonofficial does not necessarily mean it is not reliable. The information from the forum is comparatively accurate, and it is not available from official channels.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

First, the government is on the pro-incinerator side. As a result, it is only natural that it let out favorable information and avoid unfavorable reports. Second, I believe the right to learn the truth is a basic civil right. However, we can only access to a very limited amount of true information from the official channels. That is the reason why the special topic exists and why so many people participate in the forum.

How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

The forum is originally positioned as Lijiang Garden's homeowner forum. But now it has become a community forum. There are many participants on the platform. They put up threads and follow threads, they bond with people with the same opinions or interests. Some of them were already friends and some of them became friends after the incident. They hang out, they talk, and do whatever they like to do offline. Some posted a thread on the forum that the 23rd of November is the date when the department head of the City Administration Department of the Panyu government received citizens' opinions. Other followed the thread and posted "I'm going". Than people forwarded the message to people they know and told their friends and family. On the 23rd November, thousands of residents went to the City Administration Department. I am not in the place to either deny or confirm that we "gathered" on purpose.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

The government changed its decision because there was too much attention and opposition. Beside what happened on the 23rd of November, there were people who persistently went to government departments at different levels: e.g. the environmental department to give the government their feedback, hand in their advisory opinion or open letter. I believe the government is under huge pressure. That's why they changed their opinion in the end.

In our community - though the whole incident didn't come to an end, there are many people who were communicating with others on the forum to make changes in their lives. For example, some are doing experiments in their home to classify their waste.

Personally speaking, now when I shop, I will try my best not to use plastic bags, even if it's only 0.2-0.3 RMB a piece or free. Before a waste classification system and a well-developed waste treatment mechanism is developed, I will feel guilty for dumping a plastic bag, because now I will think where will this thing eventually go and how it will be treated, etc. The incident has had a significant impact on everyone of us.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

I spend much less time on it after the "Waste Incineration and Environmental Protection" became an independent special topic. My workload is shared by 4 other forum managers. Before I set up the special topic, there were only 2-3 people working on it. And it was the mostly me in charge. I was really worried that I was not experienced enough to handle everything well. Before December 20th, there were 50 consecutive days when tons of threads appears on the forum. For example, on the 24th December, there were 1900+ threads posted on the special topic. In order to maintain an atmosphere of rational discussion, I had to read through every single thread posted on the forum. Sometimes there were some "troublesome" threads, which would take me quite long to evaluate how I should deal with it. I remember that there was only one night that I went to bed before 12 am, two nights before 1am, and mostly I went to bed at 2 am, 3 am or even 4 am.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

It is hard to tell an exact number. Before December 20th, the day when we had a talk with the Party Committee secretary, everybody was anxious about that the forum might be shut down by the related departments for certain reasons. At that time, I even had dreams that the forum was shut down when I was sleeping at night. After the talk, I was convinced that the forum would not be shut down by any related departments, so much less time was spent on the forum. Still, I would check out whether there were four-letter-words in the thread and had to take time to deal with it.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

I spend most time reading threads and handling questionable threads. There are two other forum managers who works on the frontline. To a certain extent, their work is not related to the forum any more. They work both online and offline. They conduct technical research; they draft documents, they hand in proposals to government departments such as the Committee of Municipal Administration and Department of Environmental Protection, etc.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

Personally speaking, I hope the incident will draw more attention and have more people engaged, because it's not about one incinerator; it is a huge topic about environmental protection. Nevertheless, this is a forum. We did not intentionally attract people to come. If there's something about our forum that appeals to people, it is the unique openness of the forum. As long as you abide by the law of the country and the rules of the forum, anybody can come and say anything they want.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

We do not verify the identities. As long as people abide by the law and the forum rules, they are welcome to come.

How do you attract new participants?: 

We hope that the forum has rules and management that are fair and just. We are doing a good job in this regard compared with other community forums. That's why people want to participate. We do not attract new participants on purpose.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

Like I mentioned before, first, rules and management that are fair and just. Second, sufficient amount of user generated information that can really interests people; third, comparatively rational atmosphere. This is derived from the pursuit of the first point. For example, I hate the current mode of incineration. However, abusive words are not encouraged on the forum, because they are simply valueless except an outlet of emotion. Besides, if most participants were using the special topic only to vent their ill emotions, our special topic would literally become a special topic on "waste". Personal attacks are not allowed on the forum, even against Lu Zhiyi (the Vice General Secretary of the Municipal Government of Guangzhou). We can say whatever we want when we are drinking with friends in private. But the forum is open to all. Even if he/she is an eyesore to everyone, no abusive words against him/her is allowed on the forum. This is a the primary principle of the forum. We are non-profit. We do not expect high traffic; nobody can make money from our forum. So we can stick to our ideals.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

Being a member of the community; the feeling of self-realization as a responsible citizen.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Most importantly, search all kinds of information; research; and sometimes, find the implicit/hidden in information.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

Member donations. People who have passion towards the forum will naturally give money to it.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

As a forum manager, basically no. But as a member of the community, many of our members will register with other community forums in the neighborhood, for example the Guangdi Garden Community Forum, the Qifuren Forum. If we see important threads in our forum, we will forward it to the other forums so there will be more people informed.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 


Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

There hasn't been communication between the government and the forum, given that the forum is only a platform. Nevertheless, on the 20th December, the Party Secretary of Panyu Municipal Government came at the invitation of forum members, had a talk with the owners in our community. Most of the participants that day were also members of our forum.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

It will be a lie if I tell you "no". The cyber police force from the Department of Public Security had always kept an eye on our forum. This is all I can tell you here. I insisted that as a law abiding citizen, I should have the right to learn the truth and the right to voice my opinion.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Many of the communities around has also set up their community forums, such as The Guangdi Garden Community Forum and the Qifuren Forum. We had their links on the front page.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

There must be some. But previously I've been spending most of my time on our own forum, so I did not pay special attention to other projects of our kind. I am aware that in Huadu District, there's another incineration plant project that is under environmental evaluation now. They are a part of the anti-incineration movement. There's another community project against the construction of a sludge incineration plant. There are a few threads from them on our forum. But they are not progressing smoothly.

If someone gave you $10,000 how would you use the money?: 

If I am the recipient, I will give it all to pro-bono groups. If the forum is the recipient, I will decline it. We want to develop the forum in the way we want.

If someone gave you $100,000 how would you use the money?: 

If I am the recipient, I will give it all to pro-bono groups. If the forum is the recipient...It is a larger sum of money. I will consult the whole group. After all, this forum does not belong to me, it belongs to everyone.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

No plan for myself or for the forum. The forum will just go on the way people want it to do.


Let's pay more attention to the incineration problem

This project is very significative.In many cities of China, the increasing problem of garbage received more and more attention came from the citizens. So this passage is very objective.This project can be useful.It can raise the people's realization and ,in a degree,can give some press to the government.This project has many specific numbers,and thous numbers reveal the severe situation.Those numbers are convincing.The inteview has many pround questions.Every question got a deep answer.It shows the real situation about this problem.Only through those topic and inteview,can we know the severe situation.

Increasing environmental awareness

I'm especially interested in the fact that the forum topic seemed to spread more awareness about China's garbage problem and the need to produce less of it. Where there specific discussions about how the community plans to do this, and have any related projects been implemented yet?

Well, I think I've already

Well, I think I've already seen the photos of the protesters on Renren. Actually we gradually lose interest on these kind of things. Base on TIC theory, we are going to see more of these, just around us.

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