Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for inviting me to close this Annual Event.
It feels a little bit like a bigger closure, because I remember very well receiving your commitments at the beginning of this retail forum cycle. It was at Green Week, two years ago now, and I am very glad to see not only that you have made progress, but also that you are keen to go a step further and take up greater commitments.
The first time we met, I told you how important this relationship is for the Commission. Let me assure you that nothing has changed in the interim. Perhaps we are even more aware of the key role you have to play.
We understand very well that retail is a crucial point in the value chain. It is part of everyone's daily routine, so it's an area where everyone has some personal experience. But it's also extremely complex. As you know better than anyone else, retail is all about detail.
So when we think about the economy, and our efforts to make it more sustainable, you are always there in our mind.
Since we last time met, we have made considerable progress in the implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan. Today I'd like to share some thoughts on the latest addition, which is the adoption, in January of this year, of the first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.
It's a very comprehensive strategy, and it will affect us all. As I think you heard earlier, the aim is nothing less than a complete transformation. We want to change the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. So that means intervening at all stages of the plastic cycle. It means better design of plastic products, higher plastic waste recycling rates, and more and better quality recyclates, boosting the market for recycled plastics.
The end result should mean greater added value for a more competitive, more resilient plastics industry, with the potential to lead the world. So no one can accuse us of being short on ambition! Change on that sort of scale means changes right across society, and so the strategy foresees a role for everyone, from commitments for action at EU level, through measures for industry and public authorities, right down to the level of individual choice, where we have launched a publicity campaign targeting some single-use plastics, to help people resist their apparent charms.
Not all the products we need are available yet, so this plastics strategy comes with considerable financial backing as well. The Commission has made EUR 650 million of EU funding available for Circular Economy actions under Horizon 2020.
We have also been active on the legislative front, with revised waste directives recently adopted by the European Parliament and Council that will enter into force on 4 July. We recently launched a legislative proposal to address single-use plastic items and fishing gear, and we have a commitment from our co-legislators to prioritise the adoption of these new rules, which should all still happen under the present Commission, so before the end of next year.
I said there was a role for everyone, and of course, ladies and gentlemen, that also includes you. Both the Circular Economy Package and the EU Plastic Strategy contain many measures that directly address the Retail Sector. Measures like product labelling, footprint calculation, premature obsolescence and food waste, which I'm sure you discussed this morning.
One thing is very clear. We need widespread mobilisation if we want to deliver. As retailers, you have a big role to play. You have a central position in the supply chain, which means you can influence both production patterns and consumer behaviour.
By taking measures that support or even go beyond this action plan you can deliver immediate and substantial contribution to a more circular economic model.
I recognize, and it has been highlighted here today, that there are some real frontrunners amongst you. Both retailers and suppliers are already taking actions in specific fields.
The absence of plastic bags, and the availability of alternatives, including for the very thin bags for loose fruits and vegetables, for example, is already a reality in many shops.
Recycling and using recycled raw material has also become part of the daily practice of many consumers and suppliers. I’ve recently seen examples of own brand products, diapers in fact, where the plastic content has been substantially reduced, without compromising the absorbency of the product. This is a very encouraging, and a great help to the millions of citizens who worry about the environmental impact of these important products.
Let me take another example; the bottled drinks where some producers incorporate recycled PET in their bottles. This is the Circular Economy in practice.
Improved packaging design is another very positive example. And here too I see that a number of retailers are setting the pace with own-brand products, replacing plastic packaging by sustainable and recycled cardboard.
These initiatives bring substantial savings in financial terms and for the environment, and they have a positive impact on the daily lives of millions of customers. They are more proof that the Circular Economy is not a theoretical concept, but an ongoing reality to be found every day in factories, in shops and in people's houses.
I know that as retailers, you are doing a lot already, and my congratulations for that.
Next year we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Retailers' Environmental Action Programme, and we do have a lot to celebrate. It's an excellent instrument, very useful for both the circular economy and the plastics strategy. In the current cycle, most signatories have confirmed their commitments, and I am very pleased to see that all these commitments address key stages in the Circular Economy.
Some of these commitments are very impressive. I would single out 100% sustainable sourcing, a review of own brand packaging, challenging recycling and waste reduction targets, and the inclusion of all stores in a food donation program. Some of you have recently taken on even more ambitious commitments, and it's great to see specific actions that prevent or restrict the use of single-use plastics, even before the legislation has come into force.
That legislation is on the way, and you have everything to gain by adapting now, before your competitors do as well.
These numerous positive examples form a solid basis for going further. Because we do need to go further – the current commitments are a great start, but they won't be enough for the changes we have in mind. After this promising beginning, I am sure that many of you can do better.
Taking a life cycle assessment to products and packaging, for example, can make a big difference. It can positively influence your sourcing and your production, improving environmental performances in the use and end-of-life stages of any product.
And there is one other area where I would like to ask for your help. Perhaps you have already heard of the pledging campaign that the Commission launched as part of the Plastics Strategy. To boost the uptake of recycled plastics, the Commission called on stakeholders to come forward with voluntary pledges. The idea is to ensure that by 2025, ten million tonnes of recycled plastics find their way into new products on the EU market.
There are already some very successful commercial partnerships between producers and plastics recyclers, especially in areas like the automotive sector, so it is perfectly possible to overcome issues of quantity and quality.
To reach that ten million tonnes, we need commitments from all sectors, and I have say, we don't yet have any from retailers. The campaign runs until the end of September, so there is plenty of time left to submit your pledge.
I would love to see more commitments from all sectors, but it would be especially heartening to have some from a sector like retail. A golden opportunity to stand out among your peers, so I do you hope that some of you will take up the challenge.
I'm sure we are all getting hungry, so I won't outstay my welcome.
Let me just finish by thank you very much for your time, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the very ambitious commitments that you have already made, and thank you too for staying with us in this tremendous adventure that we call the Circular Economy.
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