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Poland: Old Cars Alarm Environmentalists

Warsaw, 10 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- An international conference of car experts has said Poland has too many old passenger cars that are polluting the environment, and that the country's car recycling operation, which could reduce their number, is underdeveloped.

The experts from Italy, Germany, France and Poland, meeting in Warsaw last week, acknowledged European countries need closer cooperation in car recycling.

Invitations were sent to other East European countries, but nobody came, prompting organizers to suggest the car-recycling problem is also neglected there.

Polish experts could only envy sophisticated systems operating in Western Europe, especially in Italy and Germany. The Polish reports sounded alarm bells about the explosive growth of cars on Polish roads, which one expert described as "the birth of cars which hardly ever die." There were 7.5 million passenger cars registered in Poland in 1995. The number is expected to increase to 10 million in 2000, and 15 million in 2010, according to the automotive research company Samar. The snowball effect will be more painful after 2000, when Poland begins to make more than one-million cars annually.

Dariusz Stawiarski, top specialist at the Warsaw-based Industrial Institute of Automation and Measurement (PIAP) said about 50 percent of cars on Polish roads are more than ten years old, twice as many as in Italy, and three times more than in France.

"What will happen with road safety and the environment by 2000 if the recycling is not accelerated?" he asks. "It will have a catastrophic impact on environment for sure." According to statistics, the death toll on Polish roads is already high, due to the poor technical condition of old cars and high-speed driving. The Polish Police Traffic Office said eleven people were killed per every 100 accidents last year, compared with 1.5 deaths for every 100 accidents in Britain. The experts said that a similar high rate of deaths-per-accident, except in the Czech Republic, can be noted in the other former Communist states.

Stawiarski said economic incentives may influence owners to get rid of older cars as new ones are becoming cheaper, due to the gradual annual decrease of tariff barriers in Europe.

There will be a zero import duty on imported cars to Poland from the European Union by 2000, under the association agreement between Poland and the EU.

Car producers, including Fiat and Daewoo, have begun to offer price reductions to buyers who turn in their old vehicles for recycling.

The situation in Poland is expected to improve next year, because a buyer will not be able to register a new car, if he owns a dysfunctional old car that has not been scrapped.

Salvatore di Carlo from Fiat told the conference about 95 percent of components from old cars are recycled in Italy. The rest goes to a landfill. He said some 4,500 dismantling centers, which resell old spare parts, operate in Italy as well as 300 shredders. About 1.4- million cars are recycled annually in Italy.

Poland has about 300 dismantling companies and only three shredders. At least four more are badly needed.

Wanda Parasiewicz, an expert from the Stomil Institute of Rubber Industry, said another poor situation exists with tire recycling. She said thousands of tires are placed in the landfills, and only about 120,000 are recycled annually. Only five purchase centers in the country buy old tires, paying about six dollars per ton.

"No wonder that their operation will cease to exist soon as transport costs are higher than the profit from selling them," she said.

Parasiewicz said that the EU imposed a requirement to fully recycle all tires by 2005. "Even the EU countries will fail to meet this requirement, not to mention Poland," she said.

Parasiewicz said that only government subsidies could help resolve the problem, at least until dismantling and recycling becomes profitable for private owners of the workshops.