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Climate Politics

People in Poland Are Burning Trash to Stay Warm This Winter

Russia’s war in Ukraine has exposed the vulnerability of Europe’s fuel supplies. In Poland, some households are hoarding garbage to replace their coal.

Smoke rises from household chimneys in the suburbs of Krakow, Poland.

Smoke rises from household chimneys in the suburbs of Krakow, Poland.

Photographer: Bartek Sadowski/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.