Illegal, wild landfills are growing like mushrooms in Poland. According to the report of the Supreme Audit Office of May 2023, there are from several dozen to over a hundred of them every year. In the “Red Waters” report, TVN24 reporters showed what a criminal practice looks like and documented that it poses a real threat to people’s safety. According to the NIK findings, the state can only deal with this problem theoretically. In practice, it is often helpless.
lga Orzechowska, Filip Folczak and Wojciech Bojanowski, the authors of the report “Wody Czerwony” showed a scenario that criminals repeat regularly in Poland: a plot or hall is rented for a pole, waste is transported there, and then – as prosecutor Konrad Rogowski informs – “just disappears.” The problem is faced by the owner of the plot or hall, who usually cannot afford to take away the waste and dispose of it.
What happens in such a situation? She recently addressed this issue Supreme Chamber of Controlwhich published the results of the inspectors’ work in May this year. The conclusions are devastating. Because while there are regulations in Poland that are supposed to ensure efficient dealing with the problem, in the opinion of NIK, they cannot be effective, because there is simply no money to fight against illegal piles of often very dangerous waste.
Theory and practice
The Supreme Audit Office emphasizes that since 2012, waste holders have been legally obliged to immediately remove waste from places of illegal depositing or collection. In practice, however, as the inspection showed, the legislators’ imagination differs from reality already at this stage. Why?
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The burden of combating illegal landfills fell – with few exceptions – mainly on the shoulders of local governments. If the landfill is located on a private plot, the obligation to determine who is the owner of the waste is delegated to commune heads, mayors and city presidents. If the waste is located in the commune, the owner is to be determined by the competent regional director for environmental protection.
And already at this stage – as NIK points out – there are very serious problems. It is, according to the report, “very difficult” to identify the owner of the waste. Especially if the perpetrator responsible for planting the waste remains unknown. “Mayors, mayors and presidents of cities did not have effective instruments that would allow impartial determination of who is the owner of the waste and who is responsible for its disposal” – emphasizes the report.
If the owner cannot be identified, the local government is responsible for removing the waste. However, there is also a problem with this, because – as pointed out by NIK – local government officials have not been provided with money for this. According to the inspectors, this is a violation of the constitution, which clearly indicates that the tasks assigned to local governments should be accompanied by public funds for their implementation. In practice, however, it is different.
What does this lead to? The report states that since 2019 Sosnowiec has been trying to remove waste from two locations. In one of them, there are about a thousand Mauser containers and 200 barrels with chemical waste to be removed. The city needs about PLN 113 million for this purpose. According to NIK inspectors, the city unsuccessfully applied to the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management, the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management and the Minister of Climate and Environment to implement the task.
There is also a shortage of money in Chodów (Wielkopolskie Voivodeship). The report states that there are significant amounts of hazardous waste (several dozen containers with carcinogenic, corrosive, toxic and flammable substances). The commune cannot do anything about it, because – as we read in the report – there is no money to remove them, although the waste may pose a threat to human life or health or the environment.
Dangerous, or what?
Since 2019, local governments have been obliged to immediately remove all waste that poses a threat to human life or health or the environment. It’s just that determining whether such waste is also not easy. Local government officials controlled by NIK pointed out, among other things, difficulties in obtaining consents for access to the area where waste is stored. However, where it did succeed, there were other problems. For example, the Poznań magistrate pointed out that determining whether a given substance or object is hazardous waste requires appropriate expert opinions. And that again comes at a cost.
To fill the hole in local government budgets, the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management implemented financial support programs (the programs “Protection of the Earth’s Surface” and “Removal of Abandoned Waste”). Did this solve the problem? According to NIK – no.
Firstly, because – as we read in the report – the rules laid down in them did not guarantee full financing of the costs of removing abandoned hazardous waste. What’s worse – as indicated – since December 2020, the Fund has not announced calls for applications for co-financing the removal of abandoned waste, waiting for the recommendations of the Minister of Climate and Environment regarding the conditions for further financing of projects related to abandoned waste.
Like mushrooms after the rain
The Supreme Audit Office admits that in Poland – as it may seem – a lot has been done in recent years to deal with the problem of illegal landfills. A ban on the import of hazardous waste from abroad was introduced and the waste was included in the System of Electronic Notification of Transports. In the Inspectorates for Environmental Protection, teams have been created to combat the practice of creating illegal dumps. Despite this, as indicated by the inspectors, every year from several dozen to over a hundred illegal dumps are revealed.
The total number of places where hazardous waste is stored remains at a similar level. In 2019, there were 76, in 2020 – 132, and in 2021 – 125. A lot? According to NIK inspectors, these data are still underestimated, because communes are not obliged to report found landfills to the Inspectorate for Environmental Protection or to the Ministry of Climate and Environment.
Main photo source: TVN24