Is Poland the next big rubbish dump of Europe?

Since China closed its borders to foreign waste, Western countries had to look for new outlets for their trash. In one of them -- Poland -- 70 dumpsites have been on fire over the past months. Sadly, not by accident.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Is Poland the next big rubbish dump of Europe? - NewsMavens
Rubbish dump. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Europe's reputation as the cleanest and greenest continent has a dark side. For decades, EU member states have been shipping their waste across the oceans. It is officially called “recycling” though in practice it is nothing but. The trash usually ends up in the developing countries of Africa and Asia where it is sorted in dangerous conditions by the poorest of the population.

Until recently, most European garbage ended up polluting China but in January it turned out that even China has its limits.

So states such as the UK or Germany -- for whom it is still cheaper to export waste than recycle it at home -- have been on the lookout for a new dumpsite. Many found it in Poland, the country where waste management law is one big loophole.

It is no accident that since the beginning of the year, 70 Polish rubbish dumps have been on fire. Their owners made a lot of money accepting waste for recycling and then -- to have room for more -- they “fell prey” to arsonists.

After all, burning garbage is cheaper than recycling it, especially when your insurance company pays for it.

As we continue to consume without much consideration for the environment, we will produce more and more waste. If Poland does not want to follow in the footsteps of China and become a global dumpsite, we need a thorough investigation into the arsons and new regulations on waste management.

Details from the story:

  • Trash is big money. By 2020, the global market for waste management is expected to be worth around 562 billion U.S. dollars
  • In January, China announced an embargo on foreign garbage.
  • In Poland, the owners of landfills and sorting plants allegedly make as much as 250-300 zlotys (up to 70 euros) per ton of waste. In a recent fire in Zgierz, over 50,000 tons of waste burned down, which means that the landfill could have earned up to 15 million zlotys accepting it.
  • According to the Polish Chief Inspector of Environmental Protection, quoted by OKO Press, from 2013 to 2015, import of garbage has remained at a stable level of nearly 400,000 tons. From 2015 (when the ruling PiS party was elected), the volume of imported waste began to grow rapidly and in 2016 was at the level of 700,000 tons, reaching 750 thousand tons last year.
  • The unsupervised burning of waste produces toxic gases, which can cause various diseases, including cancer.
  • On Tuesday, at a press conference, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that in two weeks the government will present concrete solutions for the problem. “We got rid of the fuel mafia and we’ll get rid of the waste one too,” he claimed.
  • The Ministry of Environment estimates that the landfill owners may have earned as much as 1.5 billion zlotys (350 billion euros) after the fires.
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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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