On February 21 at the Home Army Museum in Krakow, workshops for Eco-managers were held as part of the LIFE project implemented in the Malopolska Region. At the meeting, representatives of municipalities had the opportunity to share their experiences and good practices developed during more than two years of activities. Below you can read a conversation with Barbara Witek – an Eco-manager in the Municipality of Zakliczyn, who tells us what has changed in her municipality during the months and what she does every day.
Today you had the opportunity to present your activities and achievements as an Eco-manager during the workshops. Tell us what has happened in the Municipality of Zakliczyn for over two years of your activities.
Barbara Witek: I’m not a full-time Eco-manager, therefore my time when I can handle only air quality is limited. The implementation of my actions must take place efficiently and effectively. I also work half-time in the department dealing with investments in the municipality. In my opinion, such multi-tasking is very beneficial. On the one hand, I obtain a subsidy, for example, for the replacement of old furnaces, and on the other hand, I advise residents on how to complete the application to use the available resources. My actions are very closely related. In the Municipality of Zakliczyn we have a problem mainly with air pollution generated by individual households. Industrial pollution is of an inflow nature, and transport pollution is not too high. Therefore, in the spring and summer, the problem of smog in our municipality is not large. The situation changes radically in the autumn and winter.
This phenomenon concerns many Malopolska Region municipalities where single-family housing dominates. Some inhabitants still blame the industry or communication emissions for poor air quality, while low emissions from individual households are the greatest problem. The monitoring of air quality helps in better understanding of the problem. Are there any such sensors in the Zakliczyn Municipality?
Barbara Witek: In the municipality there is no air quality sensor purchased by the office, and no other type of monitoring exists. There is however one device located at the district school in Zakliczyn. Unfortunately, the school building is located off the beaten track and the result is not completely reliable. Despite the lack of measuring devices, in my opinion, social awareness regarding the problem of smog in our municipality is quite high. It is just enough to go outside in the morning or in the evening to feel the smog on your own skin and in your own lungs.
Can you say that something has changed in the municipality during the two years of your work?
Barbara Witek: Residents are definitely more aware of the problem. At every occasion, we distribute leaflets, hang posters, inform, write articles to the local newspaper or onto the website. Residents also receive notifications about the anti-smog resolution by post. Thanks to that, we can be sure that it will reach every resident. What is more, I work in a room where residents often come with various issues and I am asked questions by them about thermal modernization, furnace models, co-financing or smog as such. The society, even in small towns, is becoming more and more environmentally conscious. I know that the residents see that there is a lot going on in the municipality and they are grateful that they decided to employ Eco-managers. What is more, much has changed not only in the social awareness, but also in financial matters. As I mentioned, I devote the other half of my time to matters related to investments. During the period of my activities, we have obtained funding for many environmental investments, both in the form of subsidies and preferential loans. In 2018, I also prepared a thermal modernization program and thanks to this we received funding for insulating several public buildings (e.g. headquarters of a voluntary fire brigade, a school, a health center). This is just one of many activities undertaken in the municipality in the field of environmental protection, and above all the air.
Do you think the ecological situation in the municipality has improved over the past two years?
Barbara Witek: It’s hard to say. We do not have a measuring system, so there is no detailed research. But you can see a big change for sure. Many residents exchanged coal-fired furnaces in 2018. I am also often asked questions concerning what furnace is worth buying, to be both ecological and economical. I also know from installers that they have a lot of work, people really exchange old heating sources with us. What is more, I would like to point out that smog is not only waste used for heating, it is also very poor quality coal. I used such a coal furnace myself and the smoke from the chimney was very unpleasant. It was not caused by waste, but coal, and that is not inspected in depots and people often want but they do not have the opportunity to buy high-quality coal. I also saw a situation where a local resident installed a very modern furnace and used eco-pea coal in it. As it turns out, it is “eco” only in the name, because the amount of ash that remained after the combustion of it was comparable to those that remain after burning ordinary coal.
What do you think is missing, so that we could breathe clean air, what actions still need to be taken?
Barbara Witek: From my observations, it seems that the attitude of people living in the Municipality of Zakliczyn is improving. They have an ever deeper ecological awareness. Many people would like to exchange their furnaces but they have financial problems. Therefore, subsidies, or loans, are crucial in the fight for air quality. Money should also reach the people who need it the most, not only those who are the best oriented in the subsidy system, but not the poorest. In my opinion, what happens in coal depots, what fuel is delivered to inhabitants is also a huge problem. When I wanted to buy good quality coal, I bought what was available – not necessarily good.
Tell us please, what are you most proud of? 2.5 years as an Eco-manager is a lot!
Barbara Witek: I am most happy with the investment projects that we have managed to implement. They bring a measurable effect. It is not only a specific help for the inhabitants of our municipality, it is primarily better air. I am glad that people are increasingly improving the comfort of their lives, especially the elderly, for whom carrying coal and burning it in their furnaces is a big daily burden. Helping the people is my greatest personal satisfaction.