Municipal Waste Management in Poland

waste-dump-warsawMunicipal waste management in Poland has changed dramatically since the early ’90s when, as part of Poland’s privatisation program, municipal authorities were freed of their waste management obligations. The combined Polish recycling rate for dry recyclables and organic waste has increased from 5% in 2004 to 21% in 2010, according to a Copenhagen Resource Institute (CRI) study Municipal Waste Management in Poland (2013). Another source provides similar, corroborating statistics, putting the dry recycling rate in Poland at 14% and the composting rate at 7%.

The latest Eurostat data (for 2011) shows that the upward trend continuing, with the total recycled and composted reaching 28%. That is rapid rate of improvement, but leaves Poland well below the latest EU-27 average of 40% (25% recycled and 15% composted) – so what prospect is there of Poland reaching the EU’s mandatory 50% target by 2020?

Responsibility for waste disposal shifted to householders, who were left to individually contract any waste collection company of their choice. In the hard economic climate a ‘cheaper-the-better’ mentality prevailed, which did little to encourage sustainable practices. There wasn’t even an obligation on householders even to sign up for waste collection.

Landfilling was – and remains – the most common way of handling waste, but accompanying reporting and tracking methods were inadequate. Statistically, quantities of waste produced were usually larger than those collected, with the missing tonnages usually being dumped in forests or burned in domestic boilers to avoid waste disposal costs. As a result, waste management became largely uncontrolled, with a 2011 report concluding that ‘’waste management is one of the most badly neglected and at the same time one of the most urgent environmental issues for Poland.’’

Waste Management Legislation

Even after joining the EU in 2005, Poland didn’t rush to introduce reforms to improve practices and help to meet recycling targets. Only recently has Poland introduced several pieces of new waste related legislation, including:

  • Act on maintaining cleanliness and order in municipalities (2012);
  • Act on Waste (2012); and
  • Act on management of packaging and packaging waste (2013).

The first of these was revolutionary in that it gave responsibility for municipal waste collection and disposal back to municipalities. Now they are required to organise garbage collection and the separate collection of biodegradable waste and recyclable materials such as paper, metal, glass and plastic. It is expected that the new law will improve waste management control measures on a local level and greatly reduce the illegal dumping and trash burning.

The Act on Waste helps tackle the previous ‘free for all’ amongst collectors – it obliges waste handlers to act in a manner consistent with waste management principles and plans adopted at national level (by the Council of Ministers), regional level (Voivodeship) and local level (Municipality).

Poland has also this year adopted a new National Waste Management Plan, which states that an essential step towards improving the recycling rate in Poland is to increase landfill fees for recyclable, compostable or recoverable material. If acted upon, this could greatly increase the incentive to divert important municipal waste streams from landfill. The Polish market is clearly responsive to cost: in 2008 after landfill tax was significantly raised, there was a substantial reduction in waste being landfilled.

Declaration of bin-dependence

Although Polish citizens have always had to pay directly for waste collection, the new legislation has made some substantial changes to the payment system. There are now three different calculation methods. Each household is subject to a standard fee, which is then adjusted to reflect either:

  • The number of people living in a household;
  • The number of square metres covered by the property; or
  • The number of cubic metres of water used by the household per month.

The first of these options seems to be the most reasonable and has proven the most popular.

Municipalities are left to determine the standard collection fee, which as a result varies from region to region. Some municipalities charge at little as 3 Polish Zloty (around £0.56) per household, per person, per month, while some charge 20 Zloty (around £3.75).

The standard charge is also affected by a declaration made by the householder regarding waste segregation. If a property owner declares that they have separated out recyclable materials then they pay considerably lower fees. In some municipalities, this could be as low as 50% of the usual charge. Only those who declare that they don’t want to recycle pay full price. It’s rare that people do so: who would pick the most expensive option?

The problem is that some householders declare that they recycle their waste while in reality they don’t. Unfortunately, abusing the system is easy to get away with, especially since the new scheme is still in its early stages and is not yet stable. Monitoring recycling participation in order to crack down on such abuses of the system represents quite a challenging task.

Future Perspectives

Transformation periods are always hard and it is common that they bring misunderstanding and chaos. It isn’t surprising that there are problems with the new system which require ironing out, and the new legislation is nevertheless welcome. However, there is still much work to be done to provide sufficient and sustainable waste management in Poland. This will include such measures as educating the population, improving waste separation at source and securing waste treatment capacity.

Perhaps most importantly, Poland needs to take immediate action to develop its municipal waste treatment capacity across the board. If the 2020 recycling target is to be met, the country will require material recovery facilities, anaerobic digestion and in vessel composting sites, and household waste and recycling centres; and if more waste is to be diverted from landfill it will also need energy from waste (EfW) incinerators and mechanical biological treatment facilities.

According to Eurostat, only 1% of waste in Poland was incinerated in 2011. It has been confirmed so far that an EfW plant will be developed in each of Poland’s 11 biggest cities. Fortunately for Poland, the development of waste treatment installations is quite generously funded by the EU, which covers up to 80% of the total cost: EU subsidy agreements have already been signed for three of the planned EfW plants. The remaining cost will be covered by central, regional and local government.

The CRI paper presents three different scenarios for the future recycling rate in Poland. One of them is very optimistic and predicts that Poland has a chance to meet the 2020 recycling requirements, but each is based simply on a regression analysis of recent trends, rather than an analysis of the likely impact of recent and planned policy measures. What it does make clear, though, is that if Poland continues to progress as it has since 2006, it will reach the 2020 target. How many EU countries can claim that?

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original version of the article can be found at this link.

The Problem of Shipping Wastes

garbage-oceanShipping wastes, long a neglected topic, has started to attract worldwide attention, thanks to the mysterious and tragic disappearance of flight MH370. During the search for MH370, a succession of items floating in the sea were identified as possible wreckage, but later confirmed to be simply pieces of marine litter. Whilst it was large pieces of debris that complicated the search, marine debris of all sizes causes problems for users of marine resources. In the most polluted areas, around 300,000 items of debris can be found in each square kilometre.

Up to 80% of ocean debris originates from land based sources, including beach litter, litter transported by rivers, and discharges of untreated municipal sewage, while ocean based sources (merchant shipping, ferries, cruise liners, fishing and military vessels) account for the remainder. Whilst typically this may be only 20% of marine litter, in areas of high shipping activity such as the North Sea it rises closer to 40%.

Wastes from commercial vessels seems like an area that could be effectively tackled with regulation. However, it is difficult for individual nations or regions to take action when ships operate in international waters and the debris in our oceans is constantly on the move.

So how is it addressed through international legislation?

Law of the Seas

In fact, a good many laws are already in place. The key piece of legislation preventing ‘the disposal of garbage at sea’ is Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Amongst the numerous other relevant laws are the London Convention and Protocol, the Basel Convention, UNCLOS, and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In addition, many more laws exist at regional and national levels. In the EU, laws directly related to marine debris include the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Directive on Port Reception Facilities. Laws indirectly related to marine debris include the Common Fisheries Policy, the Water Framework Directive, the Waste Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive…. The list goes on.

Fathoming the Legislation

Despite the profusion of legislation, the scale of the current and potential problems caused by marine debris, it is clear that implementation and enforcement is lagging behind. Why so?

Ratification

As yet, not all coastal or flag states have ratified international instruments such as MARPOL Annex V. This means that ships registered with a non-ratified state under a‘flag of convenience’ may legally continue to discharge garbage in international waters. However, even if the current suite of international legislation was universally ratified, this would serve to expose the remaining gaps in the framework.

Discharge provisions

MARPOL Annex V includes specific requirements regarding the discharge of different types of waste and location of discharges. For instance, ground food waste can be discharged up to 3 nautical miles from land, but if it is not ground it may only be discharged at a distance of 12 nautical miles or more. Although the discharge of ‘all other garbage including plastics’ is prohibited, compliance relies upon good waste management practices on board vessels.

If waste streams are contaminated, this may result in plastics and other debris being discharged into the sea. The current approach may have been developed to accommodate shipping activity, but in practice it is somewhat confusing and it would perhaps make more sense to issue a blanket ban on discharges.

Scope

Another gap within MARPOL Annex V is the scope of the requirements for ‘garbage management plans’ and ‘garbage record books’. Vessels of 100 gross tonnes or more are required to have a garbage management plan, while vessels of 400 gross tonnes or more are required to have a garbage record book. Smaller vessels are not obliged to comply with the requirements.

Less than 1% of vessels in the world fishing fleet have a gross tonnage of over 100 tonnes, the majority has no obligation to implement and maintain a plan or book; with no planning or record keeping, the risk of illegal disposal is increased. Small fishing vessels may not be considered ‘commercial’ shipping vessels at all – thereby avoiding legislation – but they still contribute towards the problem of marine debris. Most notably, abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear has a considerable impact on marine species through ‘ghost fishing’.

Port waste reception facilities

MARPOL Annex V requires the government of each ratified nation to provide facilities at ports for the reception of ship generated residues and garbage that cannot be discharged into the sea. The facilities must be adequate to meet the needs of ships using the port, without causing undue delay to ships. However, MARPOL does not prescribe any set standards or provide for certification. The term ‘adequate’ is instead defined in a qualitative (rather than quantitative) manner in Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) resolution 83 (44).

Furthermore, MARPOL does not set any requirements regarding how waste delivered to port reception facilities should be managed. Only the non-mandatory MEPC resolution 83 (44) requires that facilities should allow for the ultimate disposal of ships’ wastes to take place in an environmentally appropriate way.

Cruise ships

Cruise ships operate in every ocean worldwide, often in pristine coastal waters and sensitive marine ecosystems. Operators provide amenities to their passengers similar to those of luxury resort hotels, generating up to 14 tonnes of waste per day. Worldwide, the cruise industry has experienced a compound annual passenger growth rate of 7% since 1990, and the number of passengers carried is expected to increase from approximately 21 million in 2013 to 23.7 million in 2017.

The majority of current legislation on pollution and ship waste was developed prior to the rapid growth of the cruise market; as a consequence, there is no international legislation addressing the particular issues surrounding pollution and waste management on these vessels.

Although there is not yet data to support this, intuitively the amount of waste produced by ships would be linked to the number of people on board, rather than the vessel’s gross tonnage (which determines whether MARPOL rules apply). If the industry grows as forecasted, cruise ships may be responsible for a significant proportion of waste generated by ships, particularly if unmanned are the future.

To address this, onboard waste management systems that implement zero disposal of solid waste at sea are needed for cruise ships, together with a requirement that they only dispose of their waste at ports with reception facilities adequate to handle the type and volume of waste produced.

Taking the Helm

Where international and regional legislation is found lacking a number of voluntary mechanisms have been devised, indicating an appetite to improve the current waste disposal practices of the shipping industry.

  • The indirect fee system aims to remove the disincentive for ships to dispose of waste at port rather than at sea by including the cost of waste disposal services in the port fees paid by visiting ships, irrespective of whether ships use the facilities
  • The Clean Shipping Index is an easy to use, transparent tool which can be used by cargo owners to evaluate the environmental performance of their sea transport providers. The information is entered on a ship-by-ship basis but is also added to a total carrier fleet score for an overall ranking. Questions on waste relate to garbage handling and crew awareness, and scores can only be obtained for measures that go beyond existing regulations.
  • One commercial container operator (Matson Navigation) has introduced a zero solid waste discharge policy. The ‘greentainer’ programme uses containers specifically designed for storing solid waste. Since 1994, this programme has prevented over 10,000 tonnes of garbage being disposed of at sea.

Currently, international legislation does not properly support a closed loop system for waste management onboard ships. Despite legislative progress and improvements in practice, the monitoring of waste from shipping remains problematic. ‘Policing the seas’ to verify what a ship discharges and where, and whether this follows recommended best practice, remains one of the most challenging aspects of waste management practice at sea, but critical to making the legal framework effective.

The United Nations Environment Programme neatly summarised the issue in 2005:“… marine litter is not a problem which can be solved only by means of legislation, law enforcement and technical solutions. It is a social problem which requires efforts to change behaviours, attitudes, management approaches and multi-sectoral involvement.” 

The limitations of international legislation governing the case of marine litter disposed of at sea do need to be addressed; but unless legislation is accompanied by environmental education for seafarers, and improved monitoring, our attempts to tackle this source of marine litter will remain all at sea.

Note: The article has been republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original version of the article can be found at this link.