It seems like the concept of recycling is one that is yet to really take off in Poland. I’m not saying it’s not there – in fact I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see bottle banks, clothes bins and paper storage options in many housing estates and other osiedla – but rather that recycling seems to take place on the hush-hush. Just at the end of the road of the apartment block where I’m living, there are a set of recycling banks which I can’t remember ever seeing people using, but when I am dropping in bottles or other items, they seem to be regularly full of items to be taken away.
In fact, when considering the topic of rubbish and it’s disposal, it is something which is approached on the quiet, in general. Living in an old block, 10 stories high, the main rubbish disposal is an internal ‘piped’ system, where there is a small room close to the lifts on each floor with a pipe then allowing people to drop rubbish down to the large bins on the ground floor. It means that most people won’t need to leave their dressing gown and slippers in order to dispose of garbage. If you pick your time right, your neighbours would never see you throwing things out, and might assume you either never make a mess, or perhaps never clean your apartment.
When previously living in Ireland, it was easy to see that recycling is in-your-face, always available and unavoidable. The slogan “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” is commonly advertised, on television, in newspapers and in other media, with support provided through local and city councils also pushing for householders to use multiple bins to ensure rubbish is split into such categories such as ‘food waste’, ‘paper’, ‘plastic’ and ‘other waste’. While it does ensure a strong positive focus, it also brings out the other end of responses, with some recycling snobs having panic attacks if other people around them are not splitting disposable items correctly. I’m not complaining about recycling, but it is somewhat refreshing that in Poland, it’s something which is done because people want it, rather than being told to do it, or it being in your face.
However, another factor which probably has an impact in not needing to focus on recycling is the kombinować culture. In terms of rubbish, it seems to manifest itself in the form of scavenging. At least once a week, I have found someone looking through bins or rubbish piles, seeing if something is worth salvaging. In fact, in terms of the building rubbish disposal, it seems to be designed to allow for this as a possibility. In the area the bins are held in within our building, there is a shelf-like space along the side. It happens quite often that people will leave items there that they are no longer using or needing, and rather than simply dumping them, they are picked up by people looking to scavenge something.
You might think that it could be poor or destitute people who resort to trying to salvaging something from rubbish, but there is a surprising level of ‘professionalism’ involved too. I have seen guys with makeshift trollies, bicycles with boxes built-in, and even two guys working as a pair with a torch each, and each one would take on every second door in order to save time and move on quickly. This kind of ‘can-do’ approach sums up kombinować. I have even seen guys make a concerted effort to approach apartment blocks with specific timing associated. Once a month the management company with responsibility for the block will organise a pick-up of major or larger pieces of rubbish to be disposed of – such as furniture or so on. However, the scavengers will try to nip in, a day or a few hours in advance, and see what they can salvage for their own use. I have become accustomed to this now, so that even seeing someone looking in standard rubbish bins on the street (usually looking for tin cans) doesn’t cause any surprise at this stage.
So, recycling is not something I have a feeling is pushed here – but perhaps it’s for the better as, through various routes, people seem to push themselves, in a few different ways.