Dozens Detained in China's Harbin After Protesters Blockade Trash Plant

china-trash-plant-march-2017.jpg A worker operates a claw to feed garbage to an incinerator at a waste incineration plant in Beijing, March 30, 2017.
AP Photo

Authorities in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang have detained dozens of people after they complained and protested against pollution from a garbage facility near their homes.

Angry residents of the provincial capital Harbin recently blockaded the Yifeng garbage plant, preventing any vehicles or people from entering or leaving, and prompting the local government to send in large numbers of police reinforcements, who detained more than 40 people, local residents told RFA on Monday.

"The day before yesterday, the riot police came from Harbin and detained more than 40 people," a resident of nearby Changlin village said. "They suppressed the whole thing."

"They released some of those they detained later, but some are still being held," he said.

Repeated calls to the Harbin municipal government telephone hotline resulted in a busy signal during office hours on Monday.

Calls to the district government offices in Xiangfang went unconnected.

A local resident who declined to be named said the garbage plant in Harbin's Xiangfang district has been leaching pollutants into the nearby Songhua river for 14 years, but any attempt by residents to complain has so far fallen on deaf ears.

"They have been protesting against the garbage plant for several years now," the resident said. "The protests got pretty serious in the past few days, and even the chief of police came down here with riot police and armed police."

The Changlin village resident said the plant emits noxious smells and black smoke, meaning that local people can't open their windows.

"You can smell it for up to a kilometer around under any circumstances, and if you're further away, you can smell it if the wind is blowing from ... the east," he said. "We are in Changlin, to the west of it, and we can't open our windows in the evenings because the smell is too strong now."

"People have been complaining in recent years, and the city government sends people and says it has been fixed, but it hasn't been fixed," the resident said. "Recently, people have been organizing again ... and they blockaded the entrance."

The pollution has left local people fearing to use the local water supply, he said.

"Initially they decided it would be a garbage disposal plant that sorted garbage and turned it into something useful, such as fertilizer," the resident said. "But that isn't what actually happened. The groundwater was polluted pretty quickly and we can't drink the water."

Promises unfulfilled

He said the city government, which operates the plant, had initially responded to complaints by promising not to deliver any more loads of garbage to the site, but hasn't come up with a plan to clean up the pollution caused by the plant.

"There's mountains of the stuff in there right now that stinks, and they do nothing about it, and it's all leaching into the water table," he said.

More than three decades of rapid economic growth have left China with a rapidly growing waste disposal problem. But the serious environmental degradation caused by the trash industry has prompted a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.

China, which imported some 47 million tons of waste in 2015, has said it will stop accepting imports of 24 types of foreign waste by the end of the year.

Last year, the authorities canceled the import permits of nearly 1,000 companies, and shut down nearly 9,000 companies for ignoring the ban, but smuggling is still widespread, with customs officials seizing 110,000 tons of smuggled trash in the first quarter of this year.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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