June 19-23, 2019

Location: Yu’nan County, Yunfu, Guangdong

Participants: Around 20,000

On June 22 around 20,000 people from Yu’nan County in Yunfu, Guangdong blocked the Guangxi-bound highway to protest a waste incinerator project, according to news media sources. While SWAT police with riot shields attempted to clear the highway, protesters responded by throwing water bottles and the like. This was the major clash during a four-day-long protest beginning on June 19. The county government announced its decision to cancel site selection of the incinerator plant on June 23.

The incinerator was set to be located less than one kilometer away from nearby towns in Yu’nan County. Members of the public were only allowed to mail their opinions on site selection to the county government within the 10-day commenting period. Failure to do so would be considered an abstention. As the government did not respond to their opinions, local residents took to the streets to protest the plant project and attempted to stop the construction. They feared that the plant would emit highly cancerous waste gas with dioxin, causing soil and water pollution and contaminating food chains. During the protest, elderly people, students, and children held signs and banners rejecting the proposal on the basis that the incinerator would harm future generations. Although the plant was said to have the capacity to turn waste into energy, opponents suspected that other localities would also dump waste into their hometown. After the clashes, on June 22 the government announced that the project would be shelved, but protesters refused to accept the vague promise. The next day, the government announced the official cancellation of site selection.

As of February 2019, China has built more than 400 incinerators over the past ten years and is building 170 more. The 13th Five-Year Plan in 2016 set a goal to increase the use of incineration for waste disposal by the end of 2020. Implementation of the national policy, however, has met with fierce local resistance. Guangdong, China’s most populous province, has at least 40 incinerators. From 2014 to 2017, mass protests against the project proposals took place in such localities as Huizhou, Zhaoqing, and Qingyuan. The most violent one erupted in 2015 in Luoding, a county-level city also under Yunfu. The Luoding government signed an incinerator construction contract with China Resources Cement Holdings Limited without public notice or conducting a proper environmental assessment. Brutal law enforcement enraged tens of thousands of residents, who surrounded government buildings and even attacked police vehicles and police stations. The Luoding city government consequently backed down and terminated the contract.