Speech by Stientje van Veldhoven, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, at the opening of ‘Setting the scene for a European plastic summit’, Brussels, 5 April 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very warm welcome from me too!
I’m pleased to see so many of you here, representing businesses, the European Commission and the governments of various member states.
It has been fantastic organising this event together with my French colleague.
We have become close allies.
I remember how we came up with the idea in Brussels last summer. We were talking about plastic soup and the urgency of using less plastic and reusing more. We also talked about what a good idea it would be to lay down agreements with the private sector in a national plastics pact. Just like Great Britain already did. We were inspired by them.
It’s amazing what can happen when you both believe in something and a whole lot of people join you in pursuing your goal! We each set about drawing up a plastics pact. It wasn’t a battle or a competition. But, by chance, we both signed our separate national plastics pacts on 21 February.
That’s the power of inspiration….
It says a lot about the level of political and public support for this issue.
We all know that plastic is a miracle substance. It has served us well: it’s strong, light, flexible and easy to use.
But we now know about its disadvantages too.
Way too much plastic is ending up on our streets, in our rivers, in the ocean and even in the air.
It’s time to turn the tide. To start treating plastic as a raw material. To stop seeing it as a single-use product that can be carelessly tossed away or burned.
I noticed how encouraging it is when a colleague in a like-minded country sets the same goal and chooses the same method. France and the Netherlands inspired each other.
Other countries as well are making steps with a plastic agenda, like Great Britain, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Spain.
All together we can give a clear and load signal to the market, to companies, to consumers, that plastic needs a different approach. That’s what we’re here for!
Let me tell you about my experience in the Netherlands.
I had only just announced my intention to draw up a plastics pact when the first businesses started getting in touch.
They clearly felt the urgency and were listening to consumer demands.
But there was a great need for direction and for a shared agenda with shared ambitions.
I’m proud of the firm agreements we’ve made with some 75 large companies. I admire their ambition!
- By 2025 all their single-use plastic products and packaging will be 100 per cent recyclable.
- They will use 20 per cent less plastic.
- And: by 2025, at least 35 per cent of their products will be made from recycled plastics.
This is no easy task.
- The chemical industry faces the challenge of developing easily recyclable plastics and chemical recycling methods.
- Achieving sufficient recycling capacity will be difficult. And developing new designs is complex.
- It’s crucial that we adapt regulations – on food safety for example – to keep up. There’s still a lot of room for improvement here.
But we’re putting our shoulders to the wheel.
And the best thing is: I can already see the plastics pact is working!
- We’re seeing new links between companies that were previously not in contact.
- We’re seeing major businesses joining forces to tackle related issues like litter together instead of separately.
- We’re seeing knowledge being exchanged and pilot projects and experiments being carried out, for example with less plastic food packaging.
I can already see the plastics pact is working!
The pact is creating the critical mass and momentum required to change the plastics market.
It would be great to build up that momentum on a European scale!
The more national plastics pacts are signed, the bigger the effect on the market. It would boost the demand for recyclable plastics dramatically.
And that would create just the kind of kick-start we need. And we would all benefit.
So let’s get to work, and start sharing experiences and inspiring each other.
Today is not a one-off meeting.
This event is meant to ‘set the scene’. We see it as the first step.
In the autumn we’ll be taking another step, by holding a pledging event. The aim is to issue a joint public-private European plastic declaration.
Next spring we want to hold a European Plastic Summit.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could create a European Plastics Pact? We would be sending out a strong signal.
So I put that challenge to you!
We are all responsible for creating the plastic problem. And now we all need to take responsibility for fixing it!