Several hundred thousand tons of foreign waste enters Poland annually, coming primarily from Germany, but also from the UK, Italy and even, surprisingly, Nigeria – a notable example being used batteries imported from that country. The selective collection system is not working properly, which results in wasted waste value.
The question arises, why is Poland so eager to import waste? The answer lies in economic factors. Differences in processing costs, discrepancies in regulations and varying degrees of oversight by government bodies encourage cross-border waste shipments. Periodic reports highlight incidents of illegal waste disposal, in which unscrupulous entities receive payment for collecting waste and then destine it for incineration, effectively obliterating all traces of its existence.
Poland needs to tackle this complex problem, which requires a more sustainable and consistent waste management strategy. Imports can increase pollution, but at the same time catalyze technological progress and investment in recycling infrastructure.
Poland currently boasts eight thermal waste processing plants (ITPOs), but there are plans to increase that number fivefold in the near future. In response to the ambitious plan, 39 applications have been submitted seeking funding totaling nearly €10.5 billion . One of the Polish companies contributing to the development of ITPO in Poland is EMKA S.A., which is in the process of building two plants – in Kędzierzyn Koźle and Redzików.
Waste – a Polish issue
The issue of waste management in Poland is becoming more urgent as the amount of waste imported into the country is increasing. GIOŚ data show that from 2013 to 2021, the amount of waste imported under GIOŚ permits more than tripled. The increase in waste imports has contributed to dangerous incidents, such as a fire at a toxic waste warehouse in Przy Przylepa. Inspections conducted there in 2015 revealed irregularities in waste management. And in Czestochowa, illegal waste dumping was discovered near the city center. The imported waste was said to have come from the state-owned Nitro-Chem plant.
The problem of illegal landfills is further complicated by their dispersion throughout Poland. Tackling illegal waste dumping involves high costs, estimated at 68.6 million zlotys. Although part of the costs are to be covered by environmental funds, the problem of illegal landfills persists. Failure to take proactive measures could lead to further damage.
EMKA S.A. has a professional team of experts who have been in the industry for several decades. In addition, the company offers flexible, individual variants of cooperation and, above all, advice on environmental aspects. The solution is not only limited to innovating the market, EMKA S.A. also invests in an awareness campaign.
What about waste that is not recyclable?
The European Union’s new resolutions on a closed-loop economy and the State Waste Plan (PEMAR) 2016-2022 strongly support the concept of energy recovery from the non-recyclable portion of municipal solid waste (MSW). This approach is in line with the EU’s Three R’s principle, which includes segregation of materials through the use of separate waste bins for each category, recovery for reuse, and prioritizing waste reduction at the highest level of the hierarchy. Emphasis is placed on extending product life cycles and promoting recycling whenever possible.
In addition, governments have established a hierarchy for managing municipal waste, emphasizing the need for effective oversight. In this approach, waste reduction efforts take precedence over recycling and are rigorously pursued before recycling is used as a final option after all other strategies have been exhausted – thus adopting a more restrictive interpretation of the waste management process.
Is medical waste called the same everywhere?
Various countries, such as the United States, South Korea and China, commonly refer to it as medical waste, while the European Union and the World Health Organization (WHO) use the term healthcare waste. According to the WHO, medical waste, also known as medical waste, includes all discarded materials from hospitals and healthcare facilities used for diagnosis, treatment or vaccination. This waste includes used syringes, needles, sharps, bandages, blood samples, body parts, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, radioactive materials and various medical devices. Countries with high GDP typically generate up to 0.5 kg of hazardous medical waste per hospital bed.
The environmental and public health impacts of medical waste can be significant and costly. The production and disposal of medical waste contributes to elevated levels of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Materials mainly used in the production of instruments and operating room equipment include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyurethane (PU) and copolymers. While the first three types of plastics can be recycled, most of the waste generated in operating rooms is considered safe because it is generated before patient contact and is free of contamination or infection.
What is a thermal waste conversion plant powered by?
Conventional thermal power plants, particularly those powered by coal, serve the dual purpose of providing heat and electricity to urban areas. While these power plants are efficient in meeting energy demand, they are associated with significant emissions that negatively impact the environment. To address this environmental impact, thermal waste conversion can be introduced as a complementary solution. This approach involves converting waste into energy using thermal processes. Exploring the benefits and reasons for investing in such projects is crucial for sustainable and environmentally friendly energy generation.
As the representative of EMKA S.A. declares:
- In order for the thermal plant to operate properly, natural gas (350 m3/h) or light fuel oil (350 kg/h) is required, which is needed to power the rotary kiln mainly during its start-up phase, which accounts for about 2-3% of the annual operating time. In addition, the installation is equipped with a flue gas cleaning system – this module also requires appropriate raw materials – sorbent (12 kg/h) and urea (10 l/h), and water sourced from the municipal water supply system – 4.22 m3/h – is also necessary. Importantly, however – although the ITPO needs electricity for its operation (250kW), it is able to use energy from its own operations – steam is directed to a turbine, generating electricity.
Greater public awareness
The proliferation of thermal waste conversion facilities in various regions of Poland can be attributed to restrictions imposed by current landfill regulations for certain categories of waste. Thermal waste conversion, which converts waste into useful energy in the form of heat or electricity, is an effective solution for reducing the environmental burden of excessive waste. At the same time, the process contributes to the generation of much-needed energy for various purposes, including powering municipal grids. The integration of a thermal conversion plant serves as a dual-purpose approach, addressing waste management challenges while promoting sustainable energy production.
The waste-to-energy plant primarily treats waste that legally cannot be done with anything else. This group of waste includes medical and veterinary waste. Contrary to popular belief, this waste consists mainly of textiles and plastics. As such, they hide a large amount of unused energy, as about 23 MJ per kilogram of waste – EMKA S.A.
Investments in disposal are investments in the environment
EMKA S.A., in carrying out its investment plans, is spearheading the construction of a Waste Energy Recovery Plant on the territory of the Katowice Special Economic Zone in Kędzierzyn Koźle. The investment is part of the strategic vision of the Katowice Special Economic Zone, which emphasizes minimum investment and job creation.
- In Kędzierzyn-Koźle, we have built an installation for the recovery of energy from waste generated mainly by health care services. According to industrial terminology, the heart is the thermal waste conversion plant – EMKA S.A.
Everyone can contribute – educating the youngest
EMKA S.A.’s flagship campaign – “Waste you pass, tree you have!”, which has gained popularity over the years, targets the youngest members of the community and aims to instill in them a sense of environmental awareness. Starting in October 2023, the company is taking its mission to the next level by inviting organized groups, including schoolchildren, teenagers, students and waste management professionals, to see their state-of-the-art facility. Tours are offered free of charge, emphasizing inclusivity and accessibility for all. To date, there have already been 11 editions of the aforementioned initiative, which often take the form of two periods: spring and autumn waste collection. Actions have been organized in Zyrardow, Slupsk, Chelm and Kedzierzyn-Kozle.
During each edition of the initiative, unwanted or damaged small electronic devices, expired medicines and used papers and cardboard boxes are collected. The collected materials are then transferred to specialized facilities that handle the safe disposal or processing of these wastes to avoid contaminating the environment or putting them back into circulation. 
photo by EMKA S.A.
Visits to the installations are aimed at raising awareness of the role of proper operation of the medical waste management system. Topics are tailored accordingly to the age group. Everything is done in a way that ensures complete safety for visitors – EMKA S.A.
Medical waste accounts for a significant portion of all waste generated in most countries, with about 75% of medical waste considered non-hazardous.  The remaining 25% is classified as hazardous due to contamination with infectious materials, which can lead to the spread of diseases and various infections. Therefore, proper management and disposal of medical waste is essential. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge increase in medical waste, especially personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and needles. This unprecedented increase in medical waste underscores the urgent need for proper handling and treatment of these materials to ensure public health and environmental safety.