Eastern Europe has a rotten reputation for burying its waste. Just 18 percent of waste gets recycled, and 5% composted, on average. That said, it produces a lot less than the rest of Europe per person and Poland is home to a thriving zero waste community.
Poles are reacting to the consumer binge that followed communism
Perhaps this happy development is the flip side of disappointment with consumerism. The free market delivered a welcome flood of goods after communism, but also a bunch of waste problems, unrepairable goods and expensive tech trends that are hard to keep up with. The younger generations are probably sceptical, and rightly so. Repair and share projects are mushrooming, and Poland is in a great place to leapfrog to a low or zero waste economy. Regional authorities are set to spend vast sums on waste, but in a very backwards way.
Poland has received huge amounts of modernisation cash from Europe to trash its rich tradition of agriculture in favour of factory farming. Brussels has now stumped up the cash to pay for up to 80 waste incinerators in Poland. If built, these will suck the life out of the recycling market, composting initiatives and a blossoming community sharing scene called GiveBox. A once-proud tradition of repair will likely decline further. Poland’s chances of leaping forward to a truly zero waste economy will also go up in smoke. Thankfully Brussels changed its tune. It now wants member states to stimulate a circular economy and only ever build incinerators “only in limited and well justified cases”. Poles need to stand up and shout this from the rooftops. The government and EU investment bank should back schemes that boost jobs and people’s spending power, not exorbitant infrastructure projects. These could lead to corruption and are certain to take Poland backwards.
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