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Legal Eye: Personal trash

  • Poland
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If the title of this article led you to hope for a titillating “true-confessions” tale of depravity, I must disappoint. I lead an entirely wholesome life; at least, that’s the official story.

In any case, the only trash that will be dished out in this week’s Legal Eye column is a discussion of the more prosaic, but tangible kind. I’m referring to the waste that we all create as part of our everyday lives. Properly disposing of waste is no longer just the right thing to do, but increasingly sloppy trash disposal practices may in fact hurt your wallet.

General rules

Every one of us is supposed to dispose of our trash properly. Above all, we are encouraged to recycle whenever possible. If that is not feasible, we must attempt to render our trash harmless.

These are nice principles. For personal trash, unrelated to any business activity, principle is essentially as far as our general obligation goes. Until recently, there were no general fines for being sloppy in our personal trash disposal or failing to segregate out glass bottles and plastic from other waste. Over the last couple of years, however, fines for consumers have been introduced with respect to a few particular types of waste.

Despite these initial efforts, Poland still produces too much unsorted trash. In particular, it does not recycle and reuse enough of its waste. The European Union is requiring that, by 2015, Poland adopt a trash-sorting law, at least with respect to paper, metal, plastic and glass. If you haven’t made space in your kitchen yet for extra trash containers, you may want to start planning for it.

Electrical equipment

In the meantime, there are some types of trash that you must dispose of properly, or you risk a fine. The 2005 Polish Law on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment contains numerous requirements on proper disposal of this type of equipment, such as your old mobile phone or hairdryer.

The consumer’s job in this whole process is to dispose of waste electrical and electronic equipment properly. If you decide to do the easy thing and just throw that old equipment in the trash can, you could be fined up to zł.5,000.


The 2009 Law on Batteries and Car Batteries follows a similar pattern. Much is said about the responsibilities of sellers of batteries and the recycling standards. As consumers, we are required to do the right thing by making sure that we don’t mix used batteries with other wastes in the same trash container.

Fortunately, used battery containers seem to be popping up in a number of places, and personally, the only difficulty I’ve had with proper disposal is remembering to take the used batteries to work with me to dispose at the kiosk downstairs. Again, you risk a fine of up to zł.5,000 if you fail to dispose of them properly.

Property owners

Property owners have some additional responsibilities relating to maintaining cleanliness and order on their properties. Their property must be outfitted with equipment that allows for the collection of waste, and the owner must maintain the equipment in good shape. When it comes to trash, the owner must enter into an agreement for the collection of trash with the local authorities. The owner should be ready to produce the agreement and proof of payment as evidence of compliance with the law.

While not strictly related to trash, law on cleanliness and order also requires property owners to keep the sidewalks running parallel to their property clean, including free of mud, snow, ice and trash. Having walked through any number of snow banks and slushy sidewalks over the last week, I would like to send out a personal reminder to property owners.

In addition to a fine of up to zł.5,000 for failing to keep your sidewalks clean, Polish law also contains a general principle on civil liability to others resulting from a failure to fulfill your statutory responsibilities. In other words, you could be sued for a slip-and-fall accident on the icy sidewalk outside your home.

Source: Judith Gliniecki, Warsaw Business Journal, January 18th 2012