In 2009, the conflict between local inhabitants and government in Panyu attracted massive attention. The cause was a planned waste incineration plant, which was locally regarded as harmful, and a possible source of cancer-causing emissions. The incident is the first time that concerns for the environment gave rise to a national conflict, involving the public, governments, mainstream media and academia. Many scholars consider it a case of NIMBYism, but there were also claims of environmental injustice.
The chosen site of refuse incineration plant in Panyu is a residential district with a high population density. More than 300,000 people live there, distributed among six apartment complexes such as Lijiang Garden, Huanan Biguiyuan, Qifu New Village, etc. Coupled with nearby Zhongcun Town and Dashi Town, the whole population ranges between 700,000 and 1,000,000.
The Research Centre in Guangdong Province made a survey which was run on Nov 5, among 1550 valid questionnaires, 97.1% opposed the refuse incineration plant. The main reasons for opposing the project included ˜unreasonable planning, densely population around the plant, many tourist spots, would destroy the environment (100%); would generate Dioxins, hard to control with the so called advanced technology (97.9%); ˜the government approve the project without massive local inhabitants participation (94.4%); and because ˜many problems occurr due to refuse incineration plant in China and foreign countries (89.3) Net-citizens strongly advocated for social mobilization on online forums, writing: Please put forward our opinions by actions, it is our right! Any governments can not put us in danger in any time! It is the unity of us that can arouse the public and attract the media and governments` attention. The case of Liulitun project in Beijing and PX project in Xiamen are good examples, which are the efforts of deputy in Peoples Congress and Peoples Political Consultative Conference, and relative scholars; it`s the result of honest media and reporters. Thus, we hereby call on the united strength of local habitants and friends to fight against the project! Under heavy public pressure, the local government changed their position. On Dec 20, 2009, Yinghua Tan, the secretary of Panyu District, organized an informal discussion for three hours with inhabitants living in Lijiang Garden.
During this meeting, he announced suspension of the project, and a future evaluation that would begin two years later. According to his statement, approval of the project would be conditioned to a 75% acceptance rate among the local population. According to , "with the Guangzhou Asian Games approaching in late 2010, governmental authorities in Guangdong Province tightened social control, and anti-incinerator activism in Panyu almost came to a standstill. At that time, Friends of Nature, joined by other Beijing-based groups such as the Green Beagle Environmental Institute and the Nature University, stepped up their support for Panyu activists. After months of mentorship and grooming, Basuo Fengyun (a blog name), one of the most active participants in the earlier petitions and protests, eventually became the public face of the Panyu group. Basuo Fengyun and his followers soon redirected their focus onto a new round of governmental decision making for the siting of the pending incinerator that was no longer related to Panyu district. In 2011, he won the prestigious SEE-TNC Ecological Award, which provided necessary financial resources, moral endorsement, and peer support to continue advocacy for alternative waste treatment methods. Basuo Fengyun and fellow activists finally came to realize that public participation in the siting of an incinerator and establishing sustainable waste treatment facilities in China still had a long way to go and that it would be im possible for them to monitor governmental decisions on a regular basis and be part of future policy making without a formal organizational structure. Thus, in the spring of 2012 they formed an NGO and named it Eco Canton (Yiju Guangzhou)." The Panyu district government announced that it would delay the project until December of 2012 to allow for an environmental assessment that involves public participation. According to Su Zequn, the Executive Vice Mayor of Guangzhou, “The government will abide by the openness and transparency principle in choosing the location of the incinerator [...] We promise the project will not be started if it fails to pass environmental assessment or if it is op- posed by the majority of residents.”
The government also planned a consultation process with the public, the media, and experts for six months to look for a better way to treat household garbage and started a pilot programme in waste classification . The government said the new site would be chosen after a process of negotiation. In 2012 it was reported  that three years after the massive protests, authorities have invited tenders to build the plant in a different part of the district. South China News reported that "According to an urban solid-waste-management plan for 2010 to 2020, the district government has proposed that the waste incinerator be operating by 2014 in Dagang town, at the southern end of Panyu. The plant was originally planned for the northern end of the district. Two other towns - Dongchong and Dashi - were listed as backup options.