Shaping Poland's circular economy can bring its consumption and extraction within sustainable levels

A vision for a circular Poland centres on resilience and sustainable development: self-sufficiency and prosperity within the ecological limits of our planet. Our Circularity Gap Report Poland finds that the country has the power to transform its economy: by nearly doubling its circularity, it can reduce the resources needed to fulfil its residents' needs and wants by 40%—while cutting its emissions in half.
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Poland consumes more than the global average: 13.8 tonnes of materials per person, per year.

Nearly 90% of Poland's material use stems from virgin sources.

Only 10.2% of the resources Poland uses are cycled back into the economy after use. This means that the vast majority—nearly 90%—of Poland's resources are virgin. While the country's yearly per capita material footprint of 13.8 tonnes may seem moderate in comparison to other European countries, it still surpasses the global average of 11.9 tonnes—and is nearly double what is considered a 'sustainable' level of consumption. This overconsumption exhausts our planet's vital ecosystems and threatens our quality of life.
Circularity metric
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In meeting the needs of its residents—and exporting elsewhere in the world—Poland extracts a hefty 16.7 tonnes of resources per capita per year within its borders, well above the EU average of 10.3 tonnes.

The country extracts more hard coal than any other EU nation and is a top extractor of metal ores and non-metallic minerals. Coal is almost entirely used domestically, powering Poland's fossil-driven energy system.

By building a circular economy, Poland can cut its material consumption by roughly 40%

Our analysis reveals that by implementing a set of circular strategies, such as limiting housing stock expansion, shifting to plant-based diets and phasing out coal use, Poland can bring its per capita material consumption close to a level considered sustainable: 8 tonnes per person per year.

The road to circularity

Six opportunities to nearly halve resource use and emissions in Poland, while doubling its circularity
Build a circular built environment
  • Material consumption reduced by 26.4%
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 36%
In Poland, the need for Housing consumes a staggering 228.6 million tonnes of materials—and this is set to increase, as the country struggles with a severe housing shortage. Future build-up should be as circular as possible.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Poland make the built environment sector more circular by optimising its building stock expansion (i.e. limiting building stock expansion and using more secondary materials), prioritising deep retrofitting (i.e. retrofitting buildings to energy-efficient standards) and creating a resource-efficient building stock (i.e. prioritising lightweight and durable materials) and minimising energy use.
Nurture a circular food system
  • Material consumption reduced by 7.9%
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 9.11%
Poland's agricultural land use is among the highest in the EU, yet agricultural and economic output lags behind. While the overuse of synthetic fertilisers poses problems, the country's climate and soil, however, provide a solid foundation to embrace regeneration practices that integrate both crops and livestock.

To reduce the high environmental footprint of the agri-food sector, we recommend that Poland overhaul its food system by shifting to mineral-free fertiliser and championing seasonal, local produce while endorsing a balanced diet (i.e. eating more plant-based foods) and reducing food waste (i.e. limiting household-level organic waste, both preventable and unavoidable).
Rethink mobility
  • Material consumption reduced by 2.9%
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 4.2%
Car use in Poland is high, and the number of cars on the road has more than doubled in the past two decades—the appetite for larger and more private vehicles is growing. A large portion are second-hand—older vehicles that tend to be highly polluting, contributing to substantial air pollution.

To reduce the material footprint of transport and mobility, which is highly dependent on fossil fuels, we recommend that Poland embrace a car-free lifestyle (i.e. by promoting car-sharing and encouraging walking and cycling), stick to flex work (i.e. working from home), embrace a modal shift in transport (i.e. using more public transport) and electrify its vehicle fleet (i.e. for private cars, buses and freight transport).
Champion circular manufacturing
  • Material consumption reduced by 2%
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 1.2%
Poland is a significant manufacturing hub for automotive products, metal products and machinery and equipment. Manufacturing waste contributes to a far greater share of  total waste than the EU average, highlighting how crucial action in this sector is.

To reduce consumption, we recommend that Poland scale its industrial resource efficiency, by improving industrial processes to cut virgin resource use, reducing yield losses and diverting scraps from landfill.
Keep goods like new for longer
  • Material consumption reduced by 4.8%
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 1.3%
While remanufacturing isn't a huge market yet in Poland, it holds huge potential, especially in the automotive industry. What's more: Polish consumers are already displaying an appetite for more circular goods. Yet currently, waste levels for electronics, appliances and furniture are among the highest in the EU.

To keep materials and products like new for longer, we recommend that Poland adopt R-strategies for machinery and equipment (i.e. increasing their lifetimes through remanufacturing, repair and reuse) and promote a material sufficiency lifestyle (i.e. through minimalistic use of furniture, textiles and electronics).
Power Poland with clean energy
Material consumption reduced by 12.8%

Poland is heavily dependent on coal—and energy poverty is prevalent, affecting nearly one-fifth of residents. Now, it's time to embrace a new energy source.

To truly overhaul Poland's energy production, we recommend that the country phase out coal use by substituting it with a mix of renewables, gas and other lower-emission fuels for electricity and heating.


Explore the methodology behind our work

Collaboration to champion the circular economy in Poland

The transition to the circular economy provides Poland with a unique opportunity to reduce its consumption by 40%—and in turn, bring its economy within sustainable levels without compromising social standards.

But doing so alone is difficult. Along both of their circular journeys, substantial opportunities for circular trade and knowledge exchange exist between Poland and Norway, a strong trading partner. Exploring synergies reveals the potential for a two-way exchange of learning: in spite of their demographic differences, and vastly different starting points in terms of circularity and material use, the two countries have much to learn from each other.

The Circularity Gap Report Poland guides the way to a circular Poland, providing metrics and measurements to benchmark, track progress and kickstart the transition.


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