People in Poland Are Burning Trash to Stay Warm This Winter

(Bloomberg) -- When Paulina Mroczkowska noticed a growing pile of garbage in the yard of a carpenter’s workshop across the street, the alarm bell rang. Her concern wasn’t over the hazards of uncollected waste, but how it was going to be used.

Poland is home to 40 of the 100 cities with the worst air quality in the European Union because of a reliance on coal to heat homes, a legacy of the communist era that championed mining. But now a shortage of the fuel and the soaring cost of living are spurring people to burn alternatives — including household refuse.

“It’s so bad this season that you can smell trash burning every day, which is completely new,” said Mroczkowska, 35, a mother of three from Jablonna on the northern outskirts of Warsaw. “Rarely can you smell a regular fuel. It’s scary to think what happens when it really gets cold.”

As Russia’s war in Ukraine exposes the fragility of Europe’s energy security, Poland has another layer of risk: that efforts to tackle pollution go backwards in a country with among the continent’s highest prevalence of premature deaths linked to contaminated air.