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Poland fighting ‘garbage maffia’ crime wave

A giant fire at a landfill site in the Polish capital of Warsaw has refueled speculation that the country’s recycling sector is being obstructed by the ‘garbage maffia’, Radio Poland has reported. The incident took place last month – and was one of many – but weeks after the smoke has cleared, the burnt plastic rubble is a reminder that Poland’s recycling and waste crime legislation still has a long way to go.

Poland recycled roughly 28% of its waste every year and is one of few countries in the EU that has witnessed notably growth in recycling rates – as many Western European countries have a more saturated recycling market. A wave of ‘suspicious’ fires at dump sites has, however, proven that it is difficult for Poland to climb towards the EU’s 65% recycling target.

It has been suggested that the fires are no accident. Instead, they are claimed to be the actions of the ‘garbage maffia’, an elusive entity said to make millions of zloty by simply burning plastics and other recyclables to get rid of the material.

Too expensive?

 Karol Wójcik of a Polish waste management employers union explains that the lack of a minimum price for recyclable plastic waste is at the heart of the problem. He points out that a growing number of  people consider sending material to certified recycling centres too expensive, thus opting to burn the material illegally. A large portion of this is plastics. The Telegraph estimates that the UK sends approximately 12 000 tonnes of recyclable plastic to Poland every year, but is skeptical of it actually being recycled.

Crackdown on waste crime

In May of this year, Poland’s government was planning to enforce a crackdown on dubious waste management practices, so pledged the country’s environment minister Henryk Kowalczyk. Addressing the cabinet, he said: ‘I think we are dealing with a garbage mafia. There is no hard evidence of arson but it’s difficult to believe in a coincidence when a permit expires and the landfill catches fire.’

Kowalczyk observes that the ‘dump fires’ are an ‘enormous problem’ for the Polish waste management and recycling sector – and problem that has intensified after China ‘stopped accepting waste’ at the end of last year.

 Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has now also taken a firm stance on the matter, urging: ‘We must not allow criminals to poison us and our children and to destroy the environment.’

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