Down to earth: Poland’s waste secret: Europe plays with fire

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When China suddenly announced in 2017 that it would no longer accept foreign waste, Poland quickly became a new group of European garbage dumps. The Down to Earth team takes a closer look at an illegal business that is more lucrative than narcotics.

As the situation, and the mountains of rubbish in France, Germany and the UK, spiraled out of control, the Polish authorities responded by removing all permits to import waste and made it difficult to apply for new ones.

In this episode, Down to Earth discovers that the illegal trade continues to operate, in a more discreet way. At the beginning of 2020, there were still almost 2,000 illegal landfills across the country. In the same year, 111 fires broke out, sometimes several times in the same location.

Without enough facilities to deal with the huge amounts of trash, sites are often deliberately set on fire, usually on a weekend, when no one is present. It is a cheap way to make waste disappear and a catastrophe for air quality and soil pollution.

More lucrative than narcotics

Illegal transport of waste is not only hugely lucrative for those operating in Poland.

German companies can cut their disposal costs in half by shipping their garbage across the border. They often do not check where the waste ends up and prefer to turn a blind eye. In the meantime, Germany can continue to claim that it is Europe’s champion recycler.

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