Recycling: Poland is slowly catching up

Investments in Poland’s waste management sector at a stable level. Investments are being made above all in waste-to-energy. But Poland is slowly catching up in recycling.

Nine waste incineration plants with energy generation are already in operation across the country, and more are to follow. In the first three quarters of 2020, industry investments amounted to the equivalent of 147 million euros. Figures for the fourth quarter are not yet available from the Central Statistical Office (Glowny Urzad Statystyczny, GUS). This much is apparently certain, however: year-on-year in 2019, investments in Poland’s waste management sector remained stable.

In many cases, the waste processing facilities operated by municipal and private companies are in need of refurbishment and modernization. This also applies in terms of climate and environmental protection. According to the latest information, 259 projects were started in the Polish waste sector last year. At the end of 2019, 286 legal landfills and 1,868 wild dumps were still counted nationwide.

Growing importance is being attached to waste-to-energy. Nine waste-to-energy plants are already in operation in Bydgoszcz, Białystok, Konin, Kraków, Poznań, Rzeszów, Szczecin, Warsaw and other locations. At Gdańsk (Gdansk), construction has begun on another waste-to-energy plant with a capacity of 160,000 tons per year. Waste-to-energy plants generating electricity and heat are also planned in Olsztyn and Włocławek, and the municipality of Rzeszów is even considering building a second plant. Whether Veolia will be allowed to build a waste-to-energy plant in Łódż (Lodz), on the other hand, has yet to be decided. Meanwhile, the South Korean company Posco Engineering & Construction has been commissioned to expand the Warsaw waste incineration plant: its capacity is to be increased from 40,000 tons to 305,000 tons per year.

A separate collection of paper/cardboard/cardboard (PPK), glass, metals, plastics, organic and mixed waste is slowly establishing itself. By 2020, 50 percent of municipal waste in Poland must be recycled - based on the quantities generated. However, recycling is also understood to include energy recovery. The implementation, i.e. the creation of the corresponding regulations, is the responsibility of the municipalities.

In Poland, a total of around 127 million tons of waste was generated in 2019 (latest data). The per capita volume was 332 kilograms. The largest waste producer is the mining and extraction sector, accounting for 55.8 percent, followed by industry (23.8 percent) and the energy sector (12.3 percent). According to CIS data, 49 percent of the waste was recycled, 43 percent was landfilled and five percent was disposed of elsewhere, although it can be assumed that this was hazardous waste.

About 545,000 tons of waste were imported in 2019. The largest waste exporter to Poland was Germany with 376,000 tons. More than 100,000 tons of waste were shipped abroad from Poland, plus 75,000 tons of e-waste. 67 percent of the waste shipments (not including e-waste) went to Germany.

The separate collection rate of municipal waste was 31 percent in 2019. Of the four million tons of separately collected waste, one-third was PPK, glass, and plastic. Biowaste accounted for 30 percent and packaging, e-waste, and used textiles for 21 percent. Packaging was recycled at a rate of 58.5 percent (as of 2018). The recycled content of steel packaging - including sheet metal - was 90 percent. For PPK packaging, it was 83 percent, for aluminum packaging 52 percent, for glass packaging 62 percent, and for packaging made of wood and textiles just over 30 percent. Plastic packaging was recycled for energy and landfilled at about 30 percent each in 2018.

Progress is reported in tire recycling. The recovered raw materials would be used as an asphalt additive, for technical rubber products, and in sports fields. However, no reliable figures are available. It is also unclear to what extent the waste electrical and electronic equipment collected in 2018 (329,000 tons) was recycled. Allegedly, 321,000 tons found their way into recycling.

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