Poland’s waste blame game

The country tackles environmental crime, but fails to sort out its own waste management.

Poland’s waste blame game

Poland’s government is cracking down on illegal waste shipments and proposing new laws to toughen penalties for environmental crimes.

But those measures are unlikely to do much to improve the country’s poor record in meeting EU recycling and waste targets, activists and academics warn.

“The issue of waste imports is minor. We have much bigger problems with our own waste, we cannot deal with our 13 million tons a year. Half a million [tons] from outside Poland is not an issue here,” said Piotr Barczak, a board member of the NGO Zero Waste Poland.

That’s not the way Warsaw is playing the issue.

The environment ministry on Monday announced authorities had detected 30 locations where waste — largely soil mixed with rocks and construction materials — was illegally shipped from a German company located in Beeskow near the Polish border.

“The transports were taking place without any kinds of markings on trucks and without documents needed for the international movement of waste,” said Deputy Climate and Environment Minister Jacek Ozdoba, adding that the find “shows that further structural and legal change is necessary to tighten the international waste stream market.”

The government is working on measures to fight environmental crimes, including doubling the maximum prison sentence for illegal waste trading to 10 years and boosting fines for illegal waste disposal.

Illegal waste shipments to Poland have been a problem for years.

“Every week, there’s some truck found that is full of rubbish that is mixed or there’s a new place somewhere in the forest or on a farmer’s land that is now full of rubbish, or an old barn or some old storage space full of waste,” said Barczak.

Poland legally imported some 527,000 tons of garbage from the EU in 2019. Germany accounted for about 70 percent, with other exporters including Sweden, Denmark and Austria. There is also waste that can be traded freely in the EU without being declared. Then there’s illegal waste, in volumes that are hard to track.

“Waste is often wrongly declared or exported to Poland without a permit,” said Carsten Preuss, president of the environmental NGO Bund in the region of Brandenburg, which shares a border with Poland.

Some illegal waste is fraudulently registered as recyclable — in Poland, that is sorted plastic or paper, as the country has banned mixed waste imports — but the trash doesn’t meet those requirements and ends up being incinerated or dumped in landfills, according to Barczak. In other instances, garbage is simply driven across the border and dumped.

The issue came to wider public attention in 2018, when a series of fires broke out at disposal sites across the country, prompting the government to launch its fight against illegal waste trade and disposal.  

While that battle is garnering headlines, the country is having big problems meeting EU requirements for its own domestic waste.

In 2019, Poland generated 12.8 million tons of municipal waste, or 336 kilograms per person — less than the EU average of 502 kg per person.

The country started “from much lower levels than other, older countries in the European Union” to meet recycling targets, said Maciej Gliniak, a researcher at the University of Agriculture in Krakow specializing in waste management.

But only some 34 percent of municipal waste was recycled in 2019 — below the EU average of 48 percent — while 23 percent was incinerated and 43 percent ended up in landfill, according to Eurostat. That puts Poland out of whack with the EU’s circular economy goals to reuse and recycle as much waste as possible.

Under EU law, member countries were supposed to recycle 50 percent of their municipal waste by last year — a target Poland is almost certain to miss. It gets tougher from there. By 2025, 55 percent has to be recycled, followed by 60 percent by 2030 and 65 percent by 2035.

Even worse for Poland, the EU’s new method to calculate how much waste is recycled measures the weight of the waste entering the final recycling process and not just the amount of waste collected for recycling — making those goals even more difficult to hit.

“In Poland, the most important thing is to build new waste treatment plants,” Gliniak said, as the country lacks recycling facilities and incinerators.

Wojciech Kość contributed reporting.

This article is part of POLITICO’s Sustainability Pro service, which dives deep into sustainability issues across all sectors, including: circular economy, waste and the plastics strategy, chemicals and more. For a complimentary trial, email pro@politico.eu mentioning Sustainability.
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Greens and far-right AfD excluded from election ticket in two German states

Greens excluded in the state of Saarland, while the AfD was disqualified in Bremen — both due to nomination irregularities.

Greens and far-right AfD excluded from election ticket in two German states

The German Greens faced a major setback Friday when they were excluded from the ticket in Saarland for September’s German election, while the far-right Alternative for Germany(AfD) was hit with a similar exclusion in Bremen.

The disqualifications — which election committees said were down to irregularities in the candidate nomination process — are not yet definitive, and both parties said they would appeal the decisions, German media reported.

Although Saarland, which has 0.7 million eligible voters, and Bremen, which has 0.5 million, account for just a small amount of the 60.4 million eligible voters in Germany, the exclusion of the parties risks affecting the outcome of the election on September 26. Disqualification, albeit only at the regional level, is also embarrassing for both parties.

In Saarland, the expulsion of the Greens followed an internal fight over the nomination of the regional lead candidate. In a controversial last-minute move, the party switched its lead candidate from Hubert Ulrich to Jeanne Dillschneider. Several party members complained about irregularities in the nomination process, and regional election administrator Monika Zöllner said Friday that the Greens had committed a “severe electoral error,” according to public broadcaster Saarländischer Rundfunk.

In Bremen, the regional election committee said the AfD had failed to provide a sworn declaration that it had complied with electoral law, according to the election oversight blog Wahlrecht.


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

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