Speech by Stientje van Veldhoven, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, at the opening of the Plastics Recycling Show, 24 April 2018 (RAI Amsterdam)

‘We’re on the way to a bright, circular future, with great prospects for business and employment.

So let’s get this plastics show on the road!’ This stated state secretary Mrs. S. van Veldhoven at the European Plastics Recycling Show at the RAI congress centre, April 24, 2018. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m glad of the chance to speak to you today.
Because a circular plastics chain, the Dutch ambition to create a circular economy by 2050 and the EU’s Circular Economy Strategy are more topical than ever.
They’re goals that I work to achieve ‘eight days a week’.
I did that for seven years as a member of the Dutch House of Representatives.
And I’m doing it now as state secretary.

By 2050, the world’s population will have risen to 10 billion.
Prosperity is growing.
That’s good news for very many people.
But it also means that, during the last century, our use of materials went up by a factor of 34.
Minerals by a factor of 27,
fossil fuels by a factor of 12.
and we’re using more and more each year.

We really need to do things differently.
Otherwise we’ll saddle future generations with problems that can’t be solved.

The Paris climate agreement isn’t just about the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
It’s also about the transition to a circular economy.
One of the biggest challenges of this century.

It means that we have to:
prevent unnecessary use of resources;
increase the quality and reduce the cost of recycled material
and increase demand for recycled materials.
In this way we can exploit the opportunities that a circular economy provides in the shape of new markets and new jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We all know the issues when it comes to plastics.
I don’t have to tell you that plastic has been beneficial in many ways.
It’s stronger, more flexible and lighter than other materials.
And I don’t have to tell you about the harm it does to people and the environment, as a result of waste and pollution.

What I do want to tell you is how I think we can tackle this challenge more speedily together, using smart approaches.
We need to greatly reduce the production and use of plastics by 2050, and make them sustainable.

There will have to be a focus on preventive measures, to prevent unnecessary use of plastic.
So it’s good that we’re starting a dialogue between product developers and you, experts in sustainable recycling of all kinds of plastics.

This isn’t something that happens automatically.
National governments can help to bring parties together at the right moment.
But it’s just as important that we work hard to increase demand for recycled plastics.
The quality needs to be good, otherwise producers won’t want to use it.

Various actors are working to set up clear international standards and certification for plastic recyclates.
So that parties in the chain know what quality they’re dealing with.
That assurance is necessary to be able to compete with virgin fossil plastics that are still coming onto the market in large quantities.

The transition to a circular plastics economy needs to be speeded up.
And we can do it!
It offers plenty of opportunities:
for the market,
for the environment, and
for achieving the Paris climate targets.

Besides competition with fossil plastics, the practice of burning and exporting plastic waste alas continues.
In the Netherlands, we tax waste disposal to discourage incineration and promote recycling.
We intend to raise this tax.
Ultimately we need to stop wastage and incineration of plastic waste.
We can do this.
It will promote recycling.
And help achieve our climate targets!

To improve quality, I plan to introduce differentiated rates.
This will reward businesses that make products and packaging of recycled materials.
Collectors and waste sorters that can supply higher-grade materials to recyclers will be paid more from the ‘packaging waste fund’.
We’ll have to regulate this at European level, so as to achieve a level playing field.
The European Commission supports this proposal.
It knows how urgent the issue is – it published its EU Strategy on Plastics earlier this year.

Extra funding can also provide a nudge in the right direction.
So I’ve earmarked five million euros to scale up chemical recycling in the Netherlands.
And I won’t be put off by regulations that serve no real purpose.

I prefer to start a dialogue instead.
For instance I’ll be talking to the companies that collect waste from Dutch ministries, because I don’t want the Dutch government’s recyclable waste to be incinerated.
That’s something I feel strongly about!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Luckily a lot is already being done.
But efforts tend to be fragmented, small-scale and not always well coordinated.
Of course, the transition to a circular economy isn’t just a matter for national governments in Europe.
It’s a societal transition, which can only be achieved through the commitment and cooperation of many actors.
That’s why we in the Netherlands drew up a National Raw Materials Agreement.
It sets out the joint commitment by governments, businesses and environmental organizations to make every effort to speed up that transition.
It’s been elaborated into transitional agendas with action points.
One of them, as you know, is on plastics.
I know that many Dutch parties here today worked on it.
To them I say: thank you once again for your efforts!

We can only achieve our ambitions – national, European and international – if we take action on a larger scale.
That’s why I’m also targeting Europe and the rest of the world.
For instance, within the EU I shall continue to champion  a stronger market for recycled plastics.
For example by promoting circular procurement by governments throughout Europe.

These are the efforts I will be making.
And I’d like to call on you to commit to the transition we jointly want to make.
And to turn that commitment into a pledge.
A pledge setting out your investment in innovation, and collaboration within the chain.
To help achieve the goals in the transitional agenda on plastics and the European plastic strategy.
That way you’ll not only promote this crucial transition.
You’ll also inspire others to follow your example.
The aim is for each partner in the chain to want to make a contribution.

And I say ‘want’, because everyone can see the benefits of a circular economy:
for businesses and organizations
for the environment and
for future generations.

All of you here can foster the production of high-quality products – through innovation and smart partnerships with other parties in the chain.
That doesn’t always need to involve new technologies.
It can also be innovative forms of partnership.

Take Unilever, which has launched an initiative with start-up Ioniqa and plastics producer Indorama Ventures to convert PET waste into virgin-grade material.

I also recently visited the plastic recycling plant Morssinkhof, which can make plastic bottles from 100 per cent recycled plastic.
Last year the Swedish furniture chain IKEA invested in the company.
That’s an excellent example of smart partnership.

My message to you is that we can all make a difference.
And I’m counting on you to do that.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude.
I started my speech with a reference to music.
Let me end by paraphrasing the title of another famous song:
‘Time is NOT on our side.’

The transition to a circular economy can’t be put off till tomorrow.
It needs to be done NOW!
The world’s growing population and consumption of plastics make this an absolute necessity.

That transition won’t be a walk in the park.
More like a long trek.
One that takes perseverance and endurance.
Equipped with a clear goal, and with your commitment, ideas and innovations, we will surely succeed.
And I assure you: I run marathons, so I’m ready for it!
At any rate, we’re heading in the right direction, as this event shows.
It inspires me and fills me with confidence.
We’re on the way to a bright, circular future, with great prospects for business and employment.

So let’s get this plastics show on the road!

Thank you.