With Poland becoming a dumpster for the UK’s plastic waste, a so-called trash mafia has allegedly established itself to manage the illegal incineration of the waste.
Slawomir Mazurek, Poland’s Deputy Minister of the Environment, said that the government would take stringent steps against the illegal incineration of imported plastic waste.
More than 60 fires were started in landfills across the nation in May 2018, highlighting Poland’s relative self-regulatory backwardness. The biggest fire affected the town of Zgierz in central Poland and lasted for two days. The fragments of the burnt waste that remained were found to belong to the UK.
With China implementing an import ban on 24 types of solid waste in January 2018, other countries became a target of illegal waste shippers. The brunt of this ban was borne by countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Turkey, and Poland.
Greenpeace has blamed Western countries with the exploitation of poorer nations that have deficient regulatory frameworks. The economically weaker nations are being taken advantage of by the Western nations by offering them money in return for dumping the waste, which is often incorrectly labeled.
Beau Baconguis, a plastics campaigner at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “For the first world, it makes them feel good about their waste supposedly being recycled, but in reality, it ends up in countries that cannot deal with the waste”
UK exporters, among others, are minting money by providing the government false evidence of their contribution toward recycling the waste. They make profits by charging manufacturers and retailers a variable tonnage rate for plastic waste recovery notes, known as Perns, and present these to the government as proof of recycling the waste. However, the National Geographic reported that only 9 percent of the world’s total plastic waste makes it to recycling plants.
For years, China had been the largest scrapyard for plastics. Poland receives 12,000 tonnes of recyclable plastics from the UK, annually. After China decided to stop being the dumping ground for Western countries in 2018, Poland became the sixth-largest recipient of the UK’s waste in the world and second-largest within the EU, first being the Netherlands.
In a mandate, which was adopted in 2018, the European Union’s Circular Economy Package said that the responsibility of the producers is not only taking care of product packaging before delivering the product to consumers, but also taking care of the products and their packaging after they have been utilized by consumers. The European Commission added that to ensure the enforcement of this directive is the responsibility of member states.
The European Commission further added that Poland was among the 14 EU countries, which were at a risk of failing to meet EU’s 2020 recycling target of 50 percent. Eurostat data mentioned that in 2017, Poland recycled 33.8 percent of its municipal waste compared to the bloc average of 46.4 percent.
Six trials related to illegal landfills are ongoing in Poland. Ewa Bialik, spokesman for the National Public Prosecutor’s Office, mentioned, “Some cases may be of an international nature”. Till date, 47 people have been indicted as part of the investigations, out of which 28 are still in custody. Three British waste disposal companies are also being investigated by the UK’s Environment Agency on charges of sending 1,000 tonnes of incorrectly labeled recyclable waste to Poland.