Poland - Country Commercial Guide
Environmental Technologies
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Poland spends 3.2% of its GDP (approximately $17.7 billion;16% growth compared to the previous year) on environmental issues, according to the Polish Statistics Office (GUS), and this is bolstered by EU Cohesion funds that Poland receives. EU mandates have served as a catalyst for market growth.  EU environmental standards imposed on Poland provide increased opportunities for U.S. businesses, and EU funding has helped bring these opportunities to fruition. Since joining the EU in 2004, Poland has built more than 1,000 new water treatment plants, installed thousands of miles of new piping systems, reduced CO2 emissions by more than 30%, created hundreds of new hazardous waste management facilities, and developed long-term programs to protect endangered plant and animal species.

State of the Environmental Regime 

Poland’s environmental standing has steadily improved since its accession to the EU in 2004. The 2001 Environmental Protection Act provides the legal framework for all commercial and environmental activities in Poland. The Ministry of Climate and Environment (MoCE) is the highest national office responsible for the preparation and implementation of environmental legislation and strategies. In accordance with EU directives, the Polish government prepares a national plan to implement environmental rules and to direct the corresponding regional governments, or voivodeships, to develop and implement cascading local plans. Overall, Poland’s environmental governance exhibits a high level of national, regional, and municipal coordination. Environmental norms are relatively free from corruption and overall compliance is high. However, per the recent EU Environmental Implementation Review 2022, Poland needs to strengthen environmental governance and avoid institutional changes that could weaken implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation.

Market Barriers  

Differences in regulation and standards development philosophies between the United States and the EU are the biggest market barrier to conducting business in Poland. The following obstacles are the most problematic for environmental technology companies attempting to export to or work in Poland:

1.    Failure to recognize international standards. The existing European Regulation on Standardization (EU) No 1025/2012 only recognizes standards from three international bodies: the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The EU’s failure to recognize other international bodies prohibits the application of equivalent U.S. technologies and standards in the market. In Poland, the CE mark is required. The Polish Center for Research and Certification (PCBC) is the national testing and certification office.

2.    A preference for design-based standards over performance-based standards. In the United States, environmental technology generally meets a performance standard, such as the mitigation of pollution below a level that protects health. This performance-based approach allows for innovation and a variety of ways to attain a goal. In the EU, many standards require technology to meet a design specification, thus prohibiting the use of any technology that meets important performance standards but lacks the design specifications to make it legal.

3.    Precautionary standards and regulations. In Europe, technological hazards and subsequent limitations on applications are tied to unknown future costs, as opposed to the risk-based approach in the United States, which assesses the likelihood of both unknown and known risks against known benefits. Precautionary standards and regulations levy billions of dollars on manufacturers and service providers for testing and redesigning their products without a clear definition of the resulting benefits. Furthermore, precautionary regulations slow the delivery of environmental technologies to the market, even when pollutants pose a greater risk to human health than the technology in question.

4.    EU assistance and subsidies for environmental projects. To help Poland meet EU environmental standards, the EU often funds or subsidizes environmental infrastructure.

5.    Slowed implementation of EU environmental rules. EU environmental rules drive the development of environmental projects. The time it takes Poland to adhere to EU environmental laws creates a lag in project development and slows overall market growth.

Leading Sub-sectors  

Air Pollution Control  

Since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, the country has made significant progress in reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and NOx/SOx. Nevertheless, it remains the most fossil fuel-reliant economy in the EU, and smog and particulate matter in the air remain serious problems in many Polish cities. Fossil fuels made up 70% of Poland’s energy sources in 2020, and coal is expected to remain the country’s primary energy source until 2049.  In recent years, Poland recorded the highest levels of PM 2.5 in Europe, mainly because heating in the winter requires burning of biomass and coal. The Government recognized this problem and in 2015 passed an “anti-smog” law that allows local authorities to ban the burning of coal and other environmentally noxious substances in private homes and properties. Coal-fired power plants still emit excessive amounts of particulate matter and other air pollutants.  In July 2017, the European Commission adopted new “Best Available Technique (BAT)” standards for Large Combustion Plants, which includes coal plants. By 2021, all EU coal-fired power plants had to meet these new standards, issued by the Commission in accordance with the Industrial Emissions Directive. Virtually all Polish coal power plants do not comply with the new EU regulation on industrial air pollution emissions standards. BAT Conclusions for Large Combustion Plants had to be implemented not later than August 18, 2021. At the beginning of 2021, the EU Court declared BAT conclusions are invalid for Large Combustion Plants and after an amendment has accepted the new BAT conclusions. The amendment referred only to the voting procedure, and Poland is still awaiting additional explanations of the conditions.

Emissions from transportation, small industrial plants, and small boilers also contribute to Poland’s air quality problems. Other contributors include industrial sources in areas where the geography prevents dispersion, such as in Krakow and Upper Silesia. These locations are often mountainous or in river valleys that trap air pollutants. Opportunities for air pollution control are found in EU Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC, which includes air quality objectives. Poland will achieve improved air quality by implementing measures on the local voivodship level. Voivodship boards will soon have to monitor the implementation of air protection plans by local governments. The latter will have less time to prepare such plans. An amendment to the Environmental Protection Law is the government’s reaction to the May 2018 judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which indicated that the Polish authorities had not taken appropriate measures to improve air quality. The verdict covered the years 2007-2015. Attention to regional air quality plans is the most rational approach for U.S. businesses seeking to work in Poland’s air pollution control market. 

In June 2018, the Polish government designated over $28 billion for financing thermo-modernization of buildings. The program, called “Clean Air,” was implemented in 2018 and will be active until 2029. The program targets individual homeowners. Since the beginning of the program, almost 450,000 applications have been submitted. Pursuant to the anti-smog resolution for Kraków, adopted by the Małopolska Sejmik, from September 1, 2019, only gaseous fuels or light fuel oil are allowed in the city’s fuel combustion installations. Officials estimate that the resolution was successfully implemented and almost 100% buildings in the city are heated in an environmentally friendly manner. The number of solid fuel furnaces as the only type of heating is estimated to be approximately 285 heating sources located in 220 buildings, or approximately 0.17% of all facilities. One of the largest beneficiaries is the Silesia voivodship, which is characterized by one of the highest air pollution levels in Europe. According to the Institute for Environmental Economics’ estimates, there are between 3 and 4 million solid fuel boilers in Poland, 3 million of which are stove fired. The government subsidy program Clean Air has so far signed contracts with more than 370 thousand beneficiaries; nevertheless, this only represents a small percentage of all the obsolete stoves boilers operating in Poland.

Technologies and services in demand include:  

  • Wet/dry scrubbers (particularly systems that remove multiple pollutants)  
  • Carbon injection systems (for reduction in mercury and organics)  
  • Particulate matter control systems (particularly new bagging systems)   
  • NOx, mercury, CO2 and particulate matter monitoring and continuous monitoring systems  
  • Selective catalytic and non-catalytic reduction controls  
  • Oxygen enrichment, fuel injection, and other efficient combustion technologies   
  • Innovative specialty cements   
  • Mixing technologies  
  • Pumping and fluid handling equipment  
  • Engineering and plant design  
  • Leak detection   
  • Alternative fuel technologies used to fire cement kilns  
  • Gas or biomass fueled boilers for individual users
  • Small capacity energy storage 

Water and Wastewater Treatment  

Municipal wastewater treatment, storm management expansion, and sewage networks fall under Poland’s National Program of Municipal Wastewater Treatment (NPMWT). In 2020, the percentage of facilities that fall under the national program increased to 73%. But still over 1,000 agglomerations do not have wastewater collection systems. The EU Commission continues to push Poland to remediate this situation.

Existing treatment facilities will undergo upgrades to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in their wastewater by 75%, a goal outlined by the National Plan for Municipal Waste Water Management, (NPMWT). Flooding has sparked interest in stormwater management systems, while water scarcity in the long-term has generated concern over water efficiency through wastewater reuse. The Polish government ordered a contract for the design and development of river management systems, providing an attractive project for U.S. companies with expertise in stormwater infrastructure. The Polish government is also implementing a new water pricing scheme to promote water reuse and conservation for consumers, factories, and farms. The National Plan, updated annually, estimated budgetary outlays of $7 billion between 2017 and 2020 for the modernization of water infrastructure in 1,578 agglomerations.

Technologies and services in demand include:   

  • Engineering, procurement, and construction services  
  • Advanced filtration   
  • Membrane filtration   
  • Waste to energy technology  
  • Anaerobic digestion  
  • Nitrification  
  • Biological denitrification  
  • Monitoring equipment   
  • Testing equipment 

Industrial Process and Wastewater  

Poland suffers from water scarcity, with per capita resources averaging 1,450 to 1,700 m³ per year. Industry consumes the most freshwater resources in Poland, accounting for 70% of water usage. As a result, industry has become the primary focus for water conservation and reuse programs. Fossil fuel extraction, processing, and power generation consumes the most water among the industrial segments. Other industries that consume large amounts of water include metals and mining, pulp and paper, cement manufacturing, and construction. The National Plan, which attributes overconsumption to low prices, creates incentives for improved industrial water efficiency. The Polish government estimates that industry water consumption is two to three times higher in Poland than other EU nations. Increases in water tariffs will incentivize industries to find water efficient solutions for both processing and wastewater. The EU Priority Substance Directive (PSD) will limit the allowances of a new class of chemical substances, placing additional burdens on industry.

Sludge treatment and reuse is also a major issue in Poland. Poland produces over 700,000 tons of sludge per year, and as EU obligations related to landfill waste reduction mount, Poland will no longer use sludge in landfills. As a result, the demand for sludge treatment technologies will grow. The National Plan for Waste Management outlines that 60% of sludge is to be processed through incineration, a 25% increase from current levels. There is also a proposal to use treated sludge as a biomass fuel to help meet Poland’s renewable energy targets. Limited capacity to develop and operate sludge drying and incineration technologies will generate demand for attendant services and technologies.

Technologies and services in demand include:   

  • Engineering, procurement, and construction services  
  • Advanced filtration  
  • Membrane filtration  
  • Waste-to-energy technology  
  • Anaerobic digestion  
  • Nitrification  
  • Biological denitrification  
  • Monitoring equipment  
  • Testing equipment   

Waste Management and Circular Economy 

Poland is one of the countries that invest the least in waste management. According to forecasts by the Ministry of Climate and Environment, investments are expected to increase to over $7 million by 2034. Considering further directives, the EU directive, which imposes on Poland and other member states the obligation to recycle municipal waste at the level of 55% by 2025, and 65% by 2035. According to the latest available statistics, this number was 38% in 2020.

Landfills remain the predominant waste management method in Poland, with over 60% of waste destined for one of the country’s 800 landfills. Poland is not yet compliant with the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD). Since 2017, Poland has updated its program for implementing the UWWTD and reported new data officially to the Commission. The data show that more than 1,000 agglomerations are not compliant with the Directive’s collection and treatment requirements. There is growing pressure to improve Poland’s waste management system to meet EU obligations. Contingent with EU regulations, the country must reduce its landfill waste by 50%, instead turning to recycling and incineration technologies. Based on the EU’s Environmental Implementation Review 2022, the Commission decided to bring an infringement case against Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU. The government has been recently working on the amendment to the act on water law which implements the EU Council Directive. The estimated investment needed to ensure adequate collection and treatment in the remaining agglomerations is $6.9 billion.

In its National Development Plan, Poland outlined its waste reduction policy to include a selective waste collection system, facilities for waste recovery and recycling, and retiring unsanitary landfills. Waste management responsibilities are the purview of municipal and regional governments; thus, cities or voivodships will issue future contracts dealing with these national issues. EU mandates and funding for projects are also driving waste management projects. While waste-to-energy can be part of more comprehensive waste management strategies, source reduction and recycling are recognized as the preferred methods for solid waste management. The EU Circular Economy policy ranks incineration, even with energy recovery, on the penultimate place as a recommended waste management method. In addition, waste-to-energy solutions should focus on air pollution and climate risks. Eleven waste-to-energy facilities with a capacity of 200,000 tons each are slated for development, and seven have been already completed. Those projects include facilities in Bialystok, Bydgoszcz, Torun, Konin, Krakow, Poznan, Gdansk, and Szczecin, valued at $1 billion total. Warsaw has chosen the South Korean company POSCO E&C for renovation and expansion of the existing waste-to-energy plant in Warsaw; the modernization will be finished by 2024. The Poznan facility was the first to be built under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), and Gdansk has also followed this model of financing. The Ministries of Climate and Environment and State Assets support PPPs, which could yield opportunities for U.S. engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) businesses. More waste-to-energy facilities could be built in the Silesian agglomeration, Lower Silesia, Warsaw, Olsztyn, Lodz, the Mazovian district, the Subcarpathian region, and the Lublin region within the next few years. Poland produces almost 13 million tons of waste each year, with this amount growing by approximately 1 million tons annually. The average Pole produces over 300kg of waste each year.

Technologies and services in demand include:

  • Waste collection technologies 
  • Sanitary landfill systems 
  • Environmental monitoring and analytical equipment 
  • Sorting machines 
  • Crushing and grinding machines 
  • Materials handling equipment 
  • Recycling process expertise  

Environmental Permitting  

The Ministry of Climate and Environment, the Main Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, and the General Directorate of Environmental Protection regulate the use of environmental resources in Poland. The General Inspectorate of Environmental Protection supervises compliance with environmental protection provisions, while the General Directorate of Environmental Protection Issues Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Polish administrative authorities emphasize firm compliance with national and EU environmental laws and regulations. Breaching a permit is punishable by fines, criminal liability, and seizure of operations. The types of permits include integrated and single/separate permits. Integrated permits are required when activities could cause harm to the environment in general. These permits are renewed every five years and are strictly regulated. Single/separate permits are issued for activities that may affect an aspect of the environment that is protected from pollution, such as air and water. Single/separate permits are valid for a maximum of 10 years. The Act on Disclosing Information about the Environment and its Protection, the Participation of Society in Environmental Protection, and Environmental Impact Assessments of October 3, 2008, all serve as legislation to regulate EIAs. An EIA is required where an industrial infrastructure project may have a serious impact on the environment or a Natura 2000 area, an area that is protected because of its environmental significance.

Trade Shows

  • POLECO Poznan, October 17-19, 2023  
  • GREENPOWER Poznan, April 23-25, 2024  
  • Waste Management SOS Expo, Hotel Novotel Warszawa Airport, Warsaw, TBD, 2024


For more information about the Environmental Technologies Sector, please contact:  

U.S. Commercial Service Poland
Commercial Specialist: Katarzyna Slowinska
E-mail:  Katarzyna.Slowinska@trade.gov