Poland is not matching EU objectives on waste prevention, reduction and recycling. On top of this, the government plans to use Recovery and Just Transition funding to keep building waste incinerators, instead of investing in the circular economy.
In a nutshell:
- EU cash going to polluting, expensive waste incineration
- Poland is stuck at the bottom of the waste hierarchy and should invest in prevention and recycling first
Poland is lagging behind on prevention, reuse and recycling of waste. Waste taxes have risen substantially, but recycling rates have not improved significantly. In many Polish municipalities, the level of waste recycling in 2020 was still less than 50%; much of the waste produced is still illegally dumped in the forests, instead of being collected and reused. The last few years have also seen an increase in the number of waste fires located in temporary waste disposal sites.
Against this background, EU cash coming from the Recovery and Resilience Facility could have been used to move towards circular economy objectives, such as to put in place a system of returnable bottles, to improve currently scarce education programmes on waste separation or to make waste reporting more transparent.
Instead, the Polish government plans to use around €300 million of EU Recovery cash to promote the construction of waste incinerators able to burn up to 6,7 million tons of waste, which cause direct greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. New incinerators are unnecessary: if combined with already existing ones, they would be able to burn around 67% of waste produced today, which would prevent Poland from achieving its 55% recycling target by 2025. Building incinerators is also far more expensive than investing in a waste separation system, in which each citizen puts waste into different trash bins and materials can be recirculated into the economy.
No matter how polluting and unnecessary, waste incinerators are now making a comeback not only via the Recovery and Resilience Facility, but also via the Just Transition Fund. In the Bełchatów region, for instance, a waste incinerator is planned, with a so-called aim to create new jobs for local workers from the mining and fossil energy sectors.
But this is not how a just transition should look like. By investing in more waste incinerators, the Polish government is burning down the perspective of a truly circular economy and more sustainable future for its citizens.