Speech by the Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Stientje van Veldhoven at seminar entitled ‘Luxembourg and the Netherlands: Together on the way to a circular economy’

“As pioneers of the circular economy, our countries are working together to achieve that circular future. I see this as one of the biggest and most crucial transitions of this century, just like the energy transition. The global economy is growing.
But the planet is not!” This stated State Secretary Mrs. Van Veldhoven at a business seminar about the circular economy on May 24th. The seminar took place during the Dutch state visit to Luxembourg from 23 to 25 May 2018. The parallel economic programme with a focus on working towards a sustainable and circular economy was led by the State Secretary.

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

The close political, economic and social ties between Luxembourg and the Netherlands go back a long way.
Our cooperation within the Benelux partnership is a good example of this close relationship.
And it proves that cross-border cooperation works!

Minister Dieschbourg and I acknowledged this at our first meeting and immediately put it into practice.
And we’re keen to take it further!

This year we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Benelux Union.
Our diamond jubilee.
The diamond is the king of gemstones.
It symbolises beauty and love.
It is also a precious, durable and rare mineral.

And from minerals it’s a short hop to today’s topic: the circular economy.

An economy which can continue to grow as we ease the pressure on our environment and stop depleting the earth’s resources.
By using precious and scarce resources efficiently.
With a circular economy we can preserve our standard of living, not just in the short term but also far into the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,
As pioneers of the circular economy, our countries are working together to achieve that circular future.
I see this as one of the biggest and most crucial transitions of this century, just like the energy transition.
The global economy is growing.
But the planet is not!

So we need to grow smarter.
The global population will reach 10 billion by 2050.
Prosperity is increasing.
And that’s good news.

But it also means that demand for resources is skyrocketing.
In the past century, we’ve increased our use of raw materials by a factor of 34 and minerals by a factor of 27!
And consumption keeps expanding.
That needs to change if we don’t want to saddle future generations with irreversible problems.

Fortunately, more and more companies, public authorities and institutions are working towards an economy in which recycling plays a central role.
Especially in pioneering countries like Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Luxembourg put itself on the map as a circular hotspot by hosting a major international conference on the circular economy.
A big Luxembourg player in the steel market, Arcelor Mittal, is pursuing a zero-waste policy by recycling steel and making optimal use of waste flows.

The Dutch chemical giant DSM is leading the way in the search for alternatives to fossil fuels.

Trendsetting companies like these are showing what can be done and where the opportunities are.
Not only in our own countries, and in the EU, but also in the rest of the world.

It is my ambition to achieve a circular economy in the Netherlands by 2050.
But that means we have to speed up.
And scale up.

A lot is happening already.
But these efforts are still highly fragmented.
That’s why the Netherlands has opted for a joined-up approach.

The transition to a circular economy is not a task for government alone.
It requires social transformation.
A transformation that depends on everyone playing a part and working together.
That’s why we concluded the National Raw Materials Agreement in the Netherlands.
Central Government, local authorities, businesses, trade unions and environmental organisations have agreed to do everything possible to configure this new economy.

The parties to the agreement will work out five agendas.
Each with points of action aimed at accelerating the circularisation of entire industries, including plastics, manufacturing and construction.

The targets they set will help us change the way we build,
stop burning plastics,
improve how we deal with organic waste flows,
use appliances and textiles longer,
and recycle textile waste.

Plastic recycling is a prime example.
I don’t have to tell you that far too much plastic is simply thrown away.
It ends up as part of the plastic soup that is polluting our oceans. Or it’s burned in a process that emits CO2.
But used plastic could be turned into a valuable resource.
For example, by improving the way it is sorted.
QCP, an innovative company in Dutch Limburg, is doing just that.
They supply high-grade raw materials for products like shampoo bottles and crates.

Pilot projects are also currently underway, in which plastic waste is chemically recycled to produce raw materials that can be used to make new plastic.
The challenge is to scale this up for practical use, so in future we won’t need a drop of oil to make plastic.
I support these innovations because they will help us achieve the Paris objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Circular enterprise is a new business model.
One that involves hard work and commitment.
You have to think differently, design differently and team up more.
And you need to find a market for your products or services.
I’m calling on the business community to take up this challenge.
Be creative and innovative, dare to leave the beaten track and become winners in the new economy.
For my part, I want to give businesses that embark on this journey a hand or – if they need it – a compass.
I want to remove obstacles and show them the way forward.

By forming partnerships,
offering space,
sharing knowledge,
providing incentives,
raising international issues,
and more!
Because you might move faster on your own, but you’ll get further by working together.
Through international cooperation we can create a robust market for recycled raw materials.
Both our countries are small, but we think big when it comes to circular economy.
So, I’m delighted that we are both working towards a circular economy.
I’m also pleased that your prime minister and mine are working with Belgium and Slovenia to submit a paper on the circular economy for the European Council in December.

I would like to join with you in these efforts to convince the Commission that the Action Plan needs to be implemented more quickly.
And deserves an ambitious follow-up by the next Commission, including effective regulations and instruments.
For instance on tackling micro-plastics and linking circular economy efforts more closely to the Paris Climate Agreement.

In conclusion:   
We are at the stage where we must move from words to deeds.
And we – Luxembourg and the Netherlands, as well as our European partners – can and must accelerate the process.
We still have a lot to do and a lot to learn.
So we should look at whether and how we can take action together in the field and within the EU.
Our generation has a duty to move this forward.
To take steps to solve the problem that we and previous generations created.

Thank you.