It is a common misconception that there is no alternative to landfill other than incineration to deal with waste in Poland.
Yet this simply is not true. There are a variety of different ways that Polish waste can be reused, recycled or avoided altogether – just as there are in countries with greener reputations.
A new report Raw Material: A guide to Polish zero-waste practices by Fundacja Alter Eko lifts the lid on these methods – shining a light on the myriad of ways in which Poles are saving valuable resources otherwise destined to be buried underground or burned in an incinerator. These Polish zero-waste projects are many and varied, and can grow exponentially in number with strong political support.
Nagie z Natury is a shop selling organic food in bulk with as much wrapping and branding removed as possible – ensuring that no extra waste is created through food being needlessly displayed in elaborate packaging. This not only cuts down on the amount of packaging being thrown away and incinerated, but also saves shoppers money as the cost of packaging is deducted from the final price of the product.
The repairing of broken products is also on the rise in Poland, thanks to a number of innovative initiatives helping people to repair their own items, or connecting them with craftsmen who can do it for them. One such scheme is WoshWosh – based in Warsaw and Lodz – who clean, repair and refurbish shoes whose owners don’t want to throw them away. WoshWosh can also completely recolour and redesign customers shoes, and with interest in refurbishing shoes on the rise across Poland, they are keeping shoes in circulation rather than preventing them going to landfill.
Poland is also no stranger to recycling. The largest organisation collecting waste to be recycled is Wiewiorka.pl – an online platform buying recyclable rubbish from both businesses and individuals and passing it on to a network of processing facilities. Wiewiorka.pl pays for the waste it receives, and its services include picking up waste from homes and businesses, allowing recyclers to send their waste directly to Wiewiorka.pl and also setting up automated machines in places such as supermarkets to collect raw materials directly from the public.
Reusing would-be waste is just as prominent in Poland as in other European countries. Ekodizajn is a shop selling completely reused products, such as lampshades made from washing machine drums and glasses made out of upcycled bottles. Rather than merely selling recycled, reused and environmentally friendly products, Ekodizajn also host upcycling workshops with designers teaching customers how to turn their waste into trendy new household objects and accessories. Similar environmentally minded shops are cropping up across Poland, doing everything from repairing and redesigning old clothes to making eco-toys from recycled paper and cardboard.
The wave of environmentally-friendly community projects sweeping across Poland also extends to new composting networks. Community-run composters are springing up across the country, with projects sprouting up from Szczecin to Krakow. In Warsaw, Krasińskiego 8 is proving that community managed composting schemes can be a success. Families taking part in the scheme are collecting their waste separately and then depositing it in a community composter – successfully running a community composting scheme despite scepticism from city officials.
Zero waste schemes have the ability to create jobs and boost the economy in Poland, not to mention the huge environmental benefits that come from reusing resources rather than extracting fresh reserves, as the European Environmental Bureau has shown in its report Advancing Resource Efficiency in Europe.
Such a move would also help Poland align itself with the EU’s circular economy action plan, which holds waste prevention at its core and promotes keeping the value of products and resources within the economy for as long as possible – as highlighted recently by the Club of Rome.
On the international stage, Poland may not be seen as a frontrunner when it comes to implementing measures to conserve resources and move towards a circular economy where waste is repaired, reused, recycled or avoided altogether. But this should not deter efforts to instigate these kind of changes within Poland, and the blooming of projects designed to encourage a zero waste lifestyle shows the appetite for waste-free living is there. And with more support from local and national governments, Poland’s zero-waste revolution would have the opportunity to really gain ground.
The Surowiec report is also available in Polish here.