Along with the reduction of water consumption observed over the past decade, the volume of wastewater generated annually by the Polish economy also decreased – from 9.3 bn m3 in 2010 to 7.9 bn m3 in 2021. The majority of wastewater (over 80%) was industrial wastewater, generated by the trade, storage, transport and services activity. The remaining part was municipal wastewater, consisting mainly of wastewater produced by households. The yearly amount of industrial wastewater decreased in the past decade (from 8.0 bn m3 in 2010 to 6.5 bn m3 in 2021) in contrast to the volume of municipal wastewater, which slightly increased in the same period (from 1.3 bn m3 to 1.4 bn m3). Municipal wastewater in Poland is mainly produced by cities and towns (approximately 80%). Over the past decade, the amount of this kind of wastewater generated in urban areas was relatively stable, but at the same time rural areas started to produce more wastewater than earlier due to the extension of the water and sewage network in rural areas.
Out of all the wastewater generated annually by the Polish economy, approximately 2 bn m3 (about 1/4) required treatment. The vast majority of the wastewater was subjected to such processes. Some of it, however (6% in the recent years, i.e. less than in 2010, when it was 8%), was released untreated into waters and land. Thanks to the modernisation of treatment plants in Poland, wastewater is increasingly often treated by means of advanced technologies, which allow a larger reduction in the amount of e.g. nitrogen and phosphorus. In 2021, this kind of processing was applied to 55% of wastewater requiring treatment (compared to 47% in 2010). Wastewater treatment based on advanced technologies is gradually replacing mechanical methods, which in 2021 accounted for 23% of all the treated wastewater (compared to 31% in 2010). The remaining wastewater is processed biologically (18%) and chemically (5%).
Until 2015, the Polish economy had been generating increasing amounts of waste each year, but after that date, its volume started gradually decreasing. Both in 2020 and in 2021, less waste was produced than in 2010. This positive change resulted from the reduction of industrial waste. However, an opposite trend was observed in the case of municipal waste (i.e. refuse from households, municipal services, commerce, small business, offices and institutions), the amount of which was on the rise.
The majority of waste produced by the economy is industrial waste (89% in 2021). Over half of it is generated by the mining and quarrying section , and is related to the search, extraction, and physical and chemical processing of ores and other minerals. Therefore, over 60% of all Polish industrial waste is generated in Śląskie and Dolnośląskie voivodships, where most of the extraction industry is located. The amount of waste produced in the mining and quarrying section increased compared to the beginning of the decade, but at the same time, the volume of other industrial waste shrank.
The share of municipal waste in the total waste generated by the Polish economy slightly increased between 2010 and 2021 (from 8% to 11%). Its amount produced yearly per capita was higher by 45 kg in 2021 than in 2010, and reached 360 kg. Still, a Polish resident generated far less municipal waste than an average EU dweller, who in 2020 produced 505 kg of refuse. Polish regions vary in terms of the volume of the generated municipal waste. Inhabitants of western Poland produce much more municipal waste than their eastern counterparts, which results from several factors, including different consumption patterns. Residents of Dolnośląskie Voivodship generate the largest amounts of municipal waste (438 kg per capita in 2021), and inhabitants of Podkarpackie Voivodship the smallest amounts (247 kg per capita). City dwellers produce more municipal waste than residents of rural areas (408 kg compared to 287 kg).
Most industrial waste in Poland is subjected to processes aimed at neutralising its harmful influence to the extent where it is no longer a hazard to human life and health and is safe for the environment. In most cases the waste is either successfully disposed (51% in 2021 compared to 46% in 2016 or recovered (48% compared to 50%). The remaining waste is transferred to other recipients or stored.
Mixed waste is still dominating among all the municipal waste collected in Poland. However, thanks to legal regulations which started to be implemented in 2016, the scale of waste collected separately has significantly increased. In 2021, 40% of all the municipal waste was collected separately, while in 2010 it was only 9%. Lubuskie Voivodship the largest amount of waste collected separately(50%), and Śląskie the smallest (32%).
Legal regulations on waste collected separately also influenced its structure. At the beginning of the decade, segregated waste included mostly paper and cardboard, as well as glass and plastic, jointly accounting for 60% of all the waste collected separately in 2010. However, in subsequent years, their share decreased (to 34% in 2021) as a result of the gradual introduction of other categories of waste, such as mixed package waste or batteries and storage batteries.
Thanks to the changes in the area of waste collected separately that took place over the last decade, increasing amounts of municipal waste have been recycled in Poland. The recycling indicator grew from 16% in 2010 to 39% in 2020. However, it is still lower in Poland than in the EU, where on average 48% of municipal waste is reused (in 2010 it was 38%).
Even though year by year Poland’s emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere are decreasing, the country is still responsible for 1/5 of the particulate matter and 1/10 of the greenhouse gases released into the air from the territory of the EU. The volume of pollution emissions per capita is larger in Poland than in most other member countries. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), in 2019 the annual amount of PM2.5 released into the atmosphere in Poland was 2.0 kg per capita (compared to the average of 1.4 kg per capita in the EU), and the amount of PM10 stood at 3.8 kg per capita (compared to 2.7 kg in the EU). The emission of greenhouse gases in 2020 reached 10 tonnes per capita in Poland, whereas in the EU it was 8 tonnes. Carbon dioxide emission is responsible for approximately 80% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, and is one of the reasons for global warming. The amount of this gas released into the atmosphere per capita is also larger in Poland than the EU average (in 2020, it was 7 tonnes in Poland compared to 5 tonnes in the EU).
It is the energy sector that is mostly responsible for the emission of air pollutants (the remaining emission is generated by the industry, agriculture and waste management sectors). In 2020, over 90% of PM2.5, 80% of PM10 and over 80% of greenhouse gases were released into the air by this sector of the Polish economy. Fuel combustion in Poland had the largest share in the total emission of greenhouse gases within this sector (75%), this including fuel combustion in public electricity and heat production (35%) and transport – mainly on roads (12%).
In the 2010-2020 period, the volume of air pollution produced by the energy sector was gradually decreasing in Poland, thanks to which in 2020, 30% less particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10 each) and 10% less greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere than in 2010. Similar changes were observed in the whole EU; however, as regards the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, EU member states made twice as much progress in this field as Poland. Both in Poland and in the EU, one of the contributors to limiting the volume of greenhouse gas emissions was its decrease in public electricity and heat production (20% less emission in Poland compared to 40% less in the EU). However, in contrast to the EU, Poland saw concerning upward trends in the emission of these gases from fuel combustion in transport . In 2020, greenhouse gas emission in Poland generated by transport was 28% larger than in 2010, while in the EU on average it decreased by 12% in the same period.