Heijnen at the G20: reuse key to preventing plastic soup

Recycling alone is not enough to combat plastic pollution and plastic soup. Worldwide, we need to focus more strongly on reusing plastic products and packaging, to reduce demand for virgin plastics and prevent environmental pollution. This will be the message of environment minister Vivianne Heijnen today when she addresses her international colleagues at the G20 meeting on climate and the environment in Indonesia.

‘Countries worldwide are realising that recycling alone is not enough to preserve our planet for future generations,’ Ms Heijnen said. ‘Single-use plastic products in particular are still polluting our rivers, forests and seas. Worldwide, we need to make the switch to reusing plastic products. So plastic isn’t just sent to be recycled or, more likely, ends up polluting the environment after just one use. Let’s make reuse the norm and prevent environmental pollution.’

Preparations for ambitious UN treaty

At their annual meeting, the members of the G20 – the EU and 19 major global ¬economies,¬ including the US, Japan, China, India, Brazil and some European countries – decide on joint ambitions for the coming years. The Netherlands is not a permanent member of the G20 but has been invited to attend this year by the current presidency, Indonesia. Ms Heijnen hopes that the G20 meeting of environment ministers will result in more far-reaching plans to combat plastic waste and, consequently, encourage the reuse of plastic. This would represent an important step towards an ambitious, legally binding UN agreement on reducing plastic pollution worldwide. Such a treaty should ultimately result in binding national legislation in the signatory countries. The treaty should be in place by 2024, as agreed at the Environment Assembly held earlier this year. This will require intense negotiations over the next two years.

‘Let’s be honest: in the Netherlands, too, we have a long way to go. But we’ve made a good start. As of 2024 it will be mandatory to use regular, washable tableware when you eat out or have a drink anywhere in the Netherlands, instead of using disposable items. I believe it is our responsibility, as G20 countries and major global economies, to take the lead, think big and act fast. Getting the G20 to endorse reuse in order to prevent environmental pollution could pave the way to a binding, ambitious UN treaty.’

Multinationals biggest source of plastic pollution

Although the situation in each country is different, a large proportion of plastic pollution can be attributed to choices made by a number of leading multinationals. Ms Heijnen wants to talk to them about what they can do to increase options for reuse, such as enabling consumers to return used ready-meal packaging to the supermarket so it can be reused. ‘Worldwide, packaging produced by major players like Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever is still the biggest source of plastic pollution,’ she added. ‘At the same time, they’re also well on the way to reducing single-use plastics and increasing reuse. I believe the G20 should engage with these companies. Supporting their initiatives by introducing statutory requirements, for instance, works better than pointing the finger.’


Ms Heijnen is representing the Netherlands at the G20 Joint Environment and Climate Ministers Meeting in Bali from Monday 29 August to Thursday 1 September, together with Rob Jetten, Minister for Climate and Energy Policy. The Netherlands is a guest country at the summit, which is aimed at exchanging knowledge and agreeing on ambitions in the areas of the environment and the circular economy. Ms Heijnen will also be visiting the NGO EcoBali which is doing vital work to combat plastic pollution in Bali, as well as a local supermarket offering a refill service.