There are no simple solutions in waste management, or perfect methods of applying waste collection fees. The condition merits the question whether waste management is a local development-related threat or opportunity.

The Association of Polish Cities has organised its seventeenth online seminar forming part of the Local Development Forum “Endogenic Potential Activation as a Condition of Small and Medium-sized City/Town Development in Poland” series. On 25 March, meeting attendants discussed waste management.

The subject suggested by the Association of Polish Cities has yet again proven amazingly attractive – the seminar was attended by over 240 individuals on the ClickMeeting platform, another several dozen following the event live owing to the streaming on the Association of Polish Cities’ Facebook profile. Seminar participants mainly included local government officials and municipal authority staff.

Waste management is a huge challenge faced by local governments, related legislation vastly intricate and imperfect, a condition municipalities have been complaining about for years. While local residents have been exposed to continual increases of waste collection fees, the charges do not cover actual waste management costs, ultimately incurred by Local Government Units. Most recently, the authorities of Tarnów have calculated that the current rate of PLN 24.00 per capita does not result in waste management system balance. According to municipal authority calculations, should the current fee be maintained, the city would have to pay over PLN 5 million in extra charges.

Self-governing corporations, the Association of Polish Cities included, have been appealing for years for a task force to be established under the aegis of a specific ministry, local governments given a say therein in terms of drafting waste management-related legislation. In November 2020, the Minister of Climate and Environment founded a team for systemic solutions in the field of waste management, the team’s membership including representatives of nationwide self-governing corporations. The Association of Polish Cities is represented by attorney Maciej Kiełbus of the Doctor Krystian Ziemski & Partners Law Office in Poznań. Assigned an advisory status, the team is to remain operational until 31 December this year.

Topics triggering considerable emotion and questions whenever waste management systems are debated include the issue of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). “While no EPR legislation has been drafted yet, we are all waiting, our breath held,” said attorney Maciej Kiełbus during the seminar, “There are multiple unknowns here in terms of how the regulation will affect municipal waste management systems. One thing goes without saying: in view of the EPR, the system will have to evolve, especially if Extended Producer Responsibility regulations are followed by a financial deposit system. Fees will begin vanishing from our five colour-coded garbage bins only to reappear at other locations, other system components.”

The seminar agenda included a fascinating lecture on municipal waste thermal processing installations by Aleksander Sobolewski, Ph.D., of the Institute of Chemical Processing of Coal. He remarked that in contrast to what the majority of the society believe, selective waste collection does not resolve waste recycling issues. Recovering energy from waste is gradually becoming a necessity while not contradicting circular (closed-loop) economy rules.

In order to consider the option of recovering energy from waste, Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF) recovery installations have to be erected, which in turn translates into investment. Any mayor contemplating the construction of such an installation will have to answer a number of questions: Do we have cheap and credible technology? How do we convince district heating companies to incinerate RDF? Will our investment be profitable? Can we prove the creditworthiness required? How can we overcome public resistance – how will local residents respond? How much time do we need to deliver the investment?

“Poland continues to chiefly associate waste incineration (energy recovery) with technical, formal-and-legal, and public problems. There are no simple solutions here. Were such solutions simple, Poland would not have had an issue with RDF storage volume accruals for the past twenty years” - doctor Sobolewski concluded.

Practical waste management solutions were also presented during the seminar. Representatives of Opole, the Wierzyca Special-Purpose Municipal Association, and Waste Utilisation Company in Nowy Dwór described their experience in the field.