Social and economic factors in the spread of the NIMBY syndrome against waste disposal sites in.Taiwan.
Journal of Environmental Planning & Management, Mar97, Vol. 40 Issue 2, p273, 10p
Shen, Hung-Wen; Yu, Yue-Hwa
Abstract: Analyzes the NIMBY syndrome against solid waste disposal sites in Taiwan. Three social and economic factors that have contributed to the occurrence of the syndrome in Taiwan in the 1980s; Review of the local NIMBY protests against solid waste disposal sites; Question on why did the Taiwanese NIMBY syndrome occurred later than the United States experience.
ISSN 0964-0568





(Received February 1996; revised October 1996)

ABSTRACT The paper analyses the NIMBY syndrome against solid waste disposal sites in Taiwan and argues that the rapid growth of this syndrome has been attributable to three social and economic factors, namely: (1) the awakening of public environmental consciousness; (2) the increase in the value of urban marginal land; and (3) the process of political liberalization and the uprising of so-called 'self-help actions' from the public.


NIMBY reactions are nothing new. There are abundant historical data that record neighbours' opposition toward unwanted land uses.[1] Nevertheless, NIMBY was never a worldwide problem before the 1970s, after which NIMBY protests became widespread phenomenon as well as a major political problem in many countries (Piller, 1991, p. 162). In the USA it has been suggested that widespread NIMBY opposition since the 1970s has been fostered by several important changes in social values and legal structures in the 1960s and 1970s, including: (1) the increase of available information on negative effects caused by modern technology; (2) the growth of public environmental awareness; (3) the decline of public trust in government and industry; and (4) the increase in legal and administrative opportunities for citizens' participation.[2]

As compared with the experience in the USA, the Taiwanese NIMBY syndrome appeared about one decade later. Because of the growth of the island's economy in the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan rapidly transformed itself from a less-developed country into a newly-industrialized one; in the 1970s, the nation rejoiced in successful achievements in economic growth, and the government as well as the general public were deeply intoxicated by a pro-development ideology. Negative effects caused by industrial development were often ignored or discounted. Some citizens even viewed pollution and other negative by-products of industrial development as good signs of industrial growth. Under such a social mentality, significant conflicts between local residents and neighbouring development facilities seldom occurred. Hence, the NIMBY syndrome did not become a problem in the 1970s.

Gradually, from the early 1980s on, the situation started to change. Various NIMBY protests against LULUs (locally unwanted land uses) began to show up and spread across the whole island. Today, it is not difficult to find articles in any Taiwanese newspaper reporting protests against LULUs everywhere on the island, including solid waste disposal facilities (e.g. landfills and incinerators), nuclear power plants, airports, industrial facilities, power substations, 'parking towers' etc.

This paper asks: (1) why did the Taiwanese NIMBY syndrome occur about 10 years later than the USA experience; and (2) did this lag represent any special local characteristics? Our argument is that the timing for the NIMBY syndrome to occur is significantly affected by the social and economic conditions of individual countries. The paper uses one of the most active Taiwanese NIMBY syndromes in the 1980s--against solid waste disposal sites--as a case study. The main objective is to show that there are three social and economic factors that have significantly contributed to the occurrence of the NIMBY syndrome in Taiwan in the 1980s. First we review briefly the history of local NIMBY protests against solid waste disposal sites. Our research method is by secondary data analysis, and the sources we have relied on include the literature, government documents and newspaper clippings.

History of NIMBY Protests in Taiwan

Traditional Unsanitary Practices of Solid Waste Disposal

Traditionally, Taiwanese garbage collection and disposal services were run by local governments, who organized cleaning teams to collect garbage generated in their administrative districts and then transported this to disposal sites. Before the early 1980s, local governments generally devoted most of their limited resources to collection and transportation; less emphasis was given to disposal.[3] Although the regulations required that solid wastes be disposed of in a sanitary manner, such requirements were seldom implemented because of the shortage of manpower as well as technology. The common method adopted was open-dump rather than the genuine sanitary landfill. All low-lying places including publicly-owned riverbeds became possible open-dump sites for the ever increasing amount of garbage (Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB), 1985, p. 107; Yu et al., 1985).

Because of this kind of malpractice, open-dump sites, (under the name of sanitary landfills) created a loss of confidence in the government's ability to handle solid waste problems. Therefore, more and more local residents opposed the siting of any sanitary landfills near to where they live. Before the early 1980s, although most citizens complained about and resisted having a landfill located nearby, they still used legal approaches to express their opposition. Drastic NIMBY protests occurred only later.

The Development of Garbage Wars in the Early 1980s

The scene changed dramatically in the early 1980s. In 1982, local residents in several places, such as Tan-Shui, Chung-Li, Pin-Cheng and Hsin-Tien, began to organize strong NIMBY protests against disposal sites. Some of them even took extra-legal actions, such as blockades or encirclement, to obstruct the normal operation of waste disposal sites or interrupt the construction of new sites (Jiang, 1983, pp. 158-161, p. 341; Hsiao, 1987, p. 56, pp. 58-61, Wei, 1987, p. 68).

These extra-legal actions taken by residents at local disposal sites were called the 'garbage wars' in Taiwan. Since garbage wars might last for weeks, the normal operation of the collection service was interrupted. Citizens living in urban areas found it very difficult to dispose of their own garbage by themselves and many dumped their garbage on the streets, in the parks, or even in their neighbours' yards. In almost every place within areas affected by garbage wars, it was possible to see mounds of uncollected refuse piled by residents.

In 1983, local residents in several places, such as Yung-Ho, Chung-Ho, San-Chung, Hsin-Tien and Fu-Te-Keng, began to organize NIMBY protests and take extra-legal actions, such as interrupting trucks that transported garbage into landfills (EPB, 1983, p. 92; Wang, 1983, pp. 8-10; Chang, 1988, p. 6). In 1984, NIMBY protests against landfills rapidly spread across Taiwan. Many petitions, protests, blockades and other activities were brought against existing or proposed landfills in different regions (EPB, 1984, pp. 92-95; Wang, 1984a, pp. 1115, 1984b, pp. 21-25). When garbage wars were started, local governments were forced to stop their solid waste collection services, bringing about serious political crises for local governments. Consequently, the widespread garbage wars soon became major political problems in Taiwan. Chang (1988, p. 6) even argued that solid waste management in Taiwan began to enter 'the Period Warring States' in 1984.[4]

Government Response to Garbage Wars

Because of the growing NIMBY syndrome against landfills and its consequent serious political effects, in late 1984 the Taiwan Government finally recognized the urgency and importance of garbage disposal problems and made a radical change in its solid waste management policy. In late 1984, when the Government announced its major national development project for the next six years, the so-called 'Fourteen Major Construction Projects', a National Municipal Solid Waste Treatment Project was included. The budget for this project was estimated to be NT$28 billion (about 0.7 billion in 1984 uss) over six years, and the main goal was a plan to construct many environmentally-sound solid waste disposal facilities across Taiwan.

Despite these efforts almost every new facility proposed in the National Project for Municipal Solid Waste Treatment was still strongly opposed by local communities. Facing such a chaotic situation, the Government had to revise the Project itself so as to seek new sites to replace those cancelled or blocked by opposition. When the project ended in June 1990, the target objectives were still far from being reached. Because many disposal facilities proposed were delayed, halted, or cancelled, the real cost of this project was much lower than estimated in the original plan. Between 1985 and 1990, the total expenditure was only NT$7.3 billion, which was about one-quarter of the original budget (Chang, 1988, p. 35; Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), 1989, pp. 2-3, 1990a, 1990b, pp. 181-184, 1991, pp. 9-10).

Because of the poor implementation of this project, pollution problems caused by garbage disposal still remained unsolved, and garbage wars continued to spread across Taiwan. Finally, the Government extended the project from 1990 to 1996. Nevertheless, the new project, the so-called National Programme for Solid Waste Treatment, has encountered a similar fate in terms of NIMBY opposition. Like the previous project, many of the proposed solid waste disposal sites have been halted, delayed or cancelled. To date, the NIMBY syndrome and citizens' extra-legal actions against existing or proposed garbage disposal facilities have remained unabated, and 'opposition from residents' has always been listed as the most difficult problem encountered in any solid waste management programmes.

Factors in the Growth of the NIMBY Syndrome

In this section, we discuss three social and economic factors which are thought to be responsible for the occurrence of the NIMBY syndrome against solid waste disposal sites in the 1980s.

Growth of Environmental Awareness

One of the major factors that contributed to the widespread NIMBY syndrome is the rapid growth of environmental awareness among the general public in the early 1980s. Environmental consciousness first came to the fore in the 1970s in Taiwan, but only academics, professionals and some other elitist citizens shared this concern for the environment. Environmental consciousness among the general public was still low. Before 1980s, despite some citizens having taken collective action against pollution problems from which they personally suffered,[5] environmental advocates were unable to use these events to promote an environmental movement because of the general lack of public interest. This situation changed in the early 1980s because public awareness of environmental problems increased rapidly during this time, perhaps because of: (1) the change of the structure of the mass media; and (2) the significant increase of reports of environmental news by the mass media starting in the late 1970s.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan's economy grew rapidly and the average annual economic growth rate was about 9% in this period (Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), 1995). There was a sharp increase in the population working in the industrial and service sectors in the late 1970s. Also, a large number of middle-class citizens and bourgeois groups emerged in urban areas (Wang, 1989, pp. 95-96). This demographic change caused a great increase in the circulation of newspapers and in advertisements. For instance, newspaper circulation increased 2.2 times and its revenue from advertising increased about 8 times from 1970 to 1980 (Chen & Chu, 1989, pp. 160-161). The two biggest private newspaper publishing groups of Taiwan, the United Daily News group and the China Times group, recognized that such a change created new potential markets for special interest oriented newspapers other than the traditional general interest newspapers, so they began to publish such newspapers as the Commercial Times and Ming-Sheng Pao.[6]

Since these new newspapers needed in-depth coverage in many special areas, such as sports and stock investments, so the new demand created vacancies for workers specializing in these particular fields. For instance, the Ming-Sheng Pao created a special section for medical information. It then began to hire and train reporters and editors specializing in these areas. At this time, the highest government office in environmental management, the Environmental Sanitation Division, was still one of the bureaus under the Administration of Health, so reporters who were responsible for medical news also became responsible for covering news in environmental affairs.[7] After the Ming-Sheng Pao began to cover environmental news, other newspapers followed into this new area.[8]

When the Ming-Sheng Pao and other newspapers began to increase their coverage of environmental news in the late 1970s and early 1980s, environmental qualities in Taiwan had been degrading rapidly as a result of the fast industrial and urban development in the past two decades. The increase of reports on the environment certainly raised public awareness of related problems. Several serious accidents took place during this time, and some of these environmental accidents, such as the Poly-chlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs) Event of 1979, threatened the health and lives of a large number of people.[9]

Accordingly, public environmental awareness grew very fast in the early 1980s. When Hsiao (1987, pp. 25-27, 1989c) surveyed attitudes in 1983, he found that the general public had begun to recognize that environmental pollution was an important national problem; it was ranked sixth among the total of 18 social problems surveyed. Three years later, Hsiao did a similar survey and found that awareness of environmental problems had grown rapidly; environmental pollution was ranked second, after juvenile delinquency, among the 15 social problems surveyed in 1986.

Sharp Increase in the Cost of Urban Marginal Land

The second main factor can be attributed to the sharp increase in the value of urban marginal land since the 1970s. Traditionally, Taiwanese local government often placed solid waste disposal facilities on the waste lands in the periphery of urban areas. Taiwan is an island of only 36 000 km[sup 2] carrying a population up to 21 million, which makes it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. About two-thirds of Taiwan is mountainous, leaving only one-third of the island as habitable land (Chen, 1991, p. 144). Moreover, urbanization as well as industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s had made the situation of land use even worse. Consequently, the cost of urban land increased sharply. According to Hsu (1988, pp. 170-171), the average land price in Taipei City skyrocketed 370 times within the 27 years from 1952 to 1979, and about 80% of this increase occurred within six years, from 1973 to 1979.[10] Whilst land prices of most urban areas increased rapidly, land prices of urban marginal lands grew much faster. For instance, Hsu (1988, p. 170) notes that the average land price of one of the fastest growing urban areas of Taipei City, the Sung-Shan district, increased 28 times within the 15 years from 1964 to 1979, whilst the land price of the Hsin-Tien Protection Area, an urban marginal area near Taipei City, increased more than 200 times in the same period.

Because of the sharp increase of land prices in many urban marginal areas in the late 1970s and early 1980s, owners of such lands were very sensitive and watchful of any factors that might influence the value of their land. This explains why most owners of urban marginal land, in the early 1980s, strongly resisted any governmental decision to site a waste disposal facility or anything similar near their land.

Political Liberalization and the Prevalence of Extra-legal Actions

The third factor to discuss is the process of political liberalization in the 1980s.

Political liberalization in Taiwan. Between the late 1940s and the late 1970s, the ruling KMT Government played a dominant role in Taiwanese politics. On 19 May 1949, it issued an order for martial law in the name of protecting national security and eliminating communist rebellion. This martial law order, which lasted for 38 years and was finally lifted in 1987, prohibited many activities, such as holding demonstrations and protests or forming new political parties. Beginning in the late 1970s, new political forces began to challenge the dominant role of the KMT. Several major political advocates in the opposition movement organized and held protests and demonstrations against government policy. Although the Government suppressed such activities, they grew steadily into the early 1980s. In 1986, leaders of the opposition movement formed a new political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in spite of martial law's prohibition. Such an action forced the Government to lift martial law in 1987.

Along with the development of the opposition movement, many social causes came to the fore in the 1980s, such as the consumer movement, the feminist movement, the aborigine movement, the farmer movement and the labour movement (Chang, 1989; Hsu & Sung, 1989). Hsiao (1989a, pp. 65-66) has pointed out that there were 18 major social movements initiated in the 1980s, one of the main characteristics of the Taiwanese political structure during the 1980s; Hsiao (1989b, pp. 21-25) has called the 1980s 'the age of social force'.

Rationale for citizens' extra-legal actions. The development of the opposition movement and social movements drastically changed the political structure of Taiwan. Before 1980, the Taiwan Government and the ruling party, the KMT, faced little challenge from citizens. After 1980, citizens gradually learned how to organize among themselves in order to challenge the Government's role in handling public policy. Before 1987 and the lifting of martial law, it was illegal to organize and hold any demonstrations and protests. With the development of the opposition movement, more and more citizens believed that these restrictions imposed by martial law were unfair because a citizen's basic human rights were curtailed. Many advocates also claimed that citizens should challenge the law so as to protect their basic rights, and this train of thinking provided a rationale for a new type of action in the Taiwanese social movements, namely extra-legal actions.

Prevalence of extra-legal actions. Extra-legal actions first occurred in Taiwan in the context of anti-pollution protests in the early 1980s. Citizens who participated in extra-legal actions usually were those local residents who had suffered most from pollution sources. Hsiao (1988, p. 34) found that before citizens took extra-legal action, most of them would have already tried legal actions, such as submitting petitions to the government agencies concerned. Without any efficient response from the agencies, the local residents were forced to take extra-legal actions. One of the most common approaches is a blockade: local residents physically encircle or block entrances to factories or sites in order to stop the normal operation or construction of targeted sites and to force governments or polluters to negotiate with them (Wei, 1987, p. 159; Weller, 1993, pp. 10-14).

The pioneering extra-legal actions in the early 1980s showed citizens in Taiwan an effective and efficient method of opposing the siting of nearby landfills. As citizens took action to block or encircle landfills, local governments were forced to negotiate with the citizens. In addition, starting in late 1986, extra-legal actions have been publicly known as 'self-help actions' in Taiwan; this socially-justified name not only helped to justify the use of extra-legal actions by citizens but also fostered the prevalence of extra-legal actions in Taiwan in the late 1980s.[11] According to Weller (1993, p. 10-12), between 1987 and 1990 over 50% of environmental protests took some form of extra-legal action, but only about 35% of environmental protests took extra-legal action between 1983 and 1985.


The main objective of this paper is to identify and discuss the specific social and economic factors that have contributed to the occurrence of the NIMBY syndrome against solid waste disposal facilities in the 1980s in Taiwan. The three key factors are: (1) the awakening of public environmental consciousness--accelerated by the change of the newspaper structure and the increasing reports of environmental news by the media in the late 1970s and the early 1980s; (2) the sharp increase in the cost of urban marginal land--directly related to rapid economic growth and urbanization between the 1960s and 1980s; and (3) the uprising of the so-called 'self-help actions' from the public--fostered by the political liberalization in the 1980s.


The essence of this paper was presented at an International Workshop on Comparative Analysis of Siting Experience in Asia held in Taipei, Taiwan, 21-22 December 1995. The authors wish to express their thanks to Professor L. Ortolano of Stanford University, Dr D. Shaw of Academia Sinica (Taiwan) and participants in this workshop for their helpful comments and suggestions.


1 For example, using historical documents, Dear (1992, p. 289) provides a good example of local opposition toward a proposed asylum in Canada in the 19th century. Meyer & Brown (1989) give an excellent analysis of NIMBY conflicts reported in Worcester, Massachusetts, newspapers of the 19th century.

2. In summarizing these factors, we refer to six sources: Popper (1987, pp. 1-13); Mazmanian & Morell (1990, pp. 126-127, p. 141); Kraft & Clary (1991, pp. 299-302); Piller (1991); Rosenbaum (1991, pp. 233-236); Pijawka & Mushkatel (1991/1992).

3. According to a government report, in the late 1970s more than 90% of the government budget for solid waste management was spent on collection and transportation; consequently, the environmental protection measures taken to prevent water and air pollution effects caused by the disposal of wastes were often ignored (Residence and Urban Development Bureau, 1983, pp. 48-49).

4. The Period of Warring States was from 403 BC to 222 BC. During this period, seven states in China contended for hegemony until the Chin dynasty emerged victorious to become the unchallenged ruler of the empire under the First Emperor. The Period of Warring States was one of the most turbulent periods in Chinese history, and the Chinese often use the term 'the Period of Warring States' to portray a disordered time, due to both its literal sense and historical meaning.

5. According to Wei (1987, p. 155), the first anti-pollution citizens' action reported by Taiwan newspapers was the Dah-Chang Chemical Engineering Company incident in 1966. Wei also calculated that Taiwan newspapers reported 34 anti-pollution actions within the 17 years from 1966 to 1982, and 99 within the five years from 1983 to 1987. Wei's study shows that citizens had taken anti-pollution actions before 1980, although they were infrequent; after 1982; this frequency increased sharply.

6. The Taiwan Government controlled the newspaper industry closely before the late 1980's. In 1951, it banned the registration of new newspapers. It also, in 1955, limited the existing 31 newspapers to a maximum of eight pages per issue. This was increased to 12 pages in 1974. This decades-old ban on the registration of new newspapers and the restriction on the maximum pages allowed per issue was lifted in 1988. Because of the restriction, the general interest newspapers in Taiwan could only publish a limited amount of news before 1988. Also, because of the ban on the registration of new newspapers, when the two biggest private newspaper groups, the United Daily News group and the China Times group, tried to issue their new special interest oriented newspapers in the late 1970s, the common approach they used was to purchase existing small newspapers and then to use their licenses to publish new newspapers but with different names. In addition, before 1978, the United Daily News group already had a special interest oriented newspaper, the Economic Daily News, which specialized in commercial news and was founded in 1967 (Chen & Chu, 1989, pp. 127-138).

7. Before 1982, the Environmental Sanitation Division (ESD) was the highest level government agency in charge of community sanitation and environmental affairs. In 1982, the Taiwan Government upgraded the ESD into the Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) and assigned the EPB to the highest level environmental agency. Both the ESD and the EPB were founded within the Administration of Health. Because the traditional division of labour of the Taiwan media generally followed the governmental bureaucratic structure, medical reporters were often supposed to be responsible for community sanitation and environmental news before the early 1980s.

8. In general, before the media began to hire reporters specializing in environmental news in the early 1980s, medical reporters were the first group to pay significant attention to environmental news.

9. The Poly-chlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs) Event happened in the summer of 1979--a company sold cooking oils contaminated by PCBs. This event caused about 2000 people in central Taiwan to have serious skin diseases.

10. When calculating the above result, Hsu uses the 1952 land price as the base.

11. 'Self-help actions' is originally a legal concept. According to Taiwanese law, during emergencies, citizens may take self-help action in order to protect their rights, and the law also prescribes the restrictions for the use of self-help action. The popular usage of the term 'self-help action' is different from its original legal definition. Hsiao (1988, p. 1) notices that the popular usage of self-help action often involved two kinds of meaning: (1) extra-legal or illegal; and (2) challenges to government authority.



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Graduate Institute of Environmental Engineering, National Taiwan University, No. 71 Chou-San Road, Taipei, Taiwan