Good Morning ladies and gentlemen, and thank for your this invitation to open the ceremony.

 

It means a lot to me because I'm very attached to the European Week of Waste Reduction. This week is a genuinely pan-European event, with thousands of actions organised across the continent. In 2017 it broke the record again, with 13 410 actions. It's now the biggest awareness-raising event on waste reduction in Europe, and in fact it's becoming globally known.

 

And it's a great example of a grass roots success. What started out as a small LIFE project has become a clear demonstration of how attached people are to environmental matters in general, and waste reduction in particular. It's a time when people from all walks of life, from public administrations and NGOs to businesses and schools, all come together to show how much they care for the environment.

Time and again, it's citizens who develop ideas on how to reduce waste and make a difference with daily decisions. Citizens who mobilise friends and colleagues to work together to implement the actions. And citizens who reach out and inform the public about the impacts of our behaviour, and the need to change.

 

Because the week is all about change. Waste prevention is the highest priority in European waste policy, and as we all know, the best waste is waste that is avoided. Waste prevention is the best way to combat the unsustainable use of resources. Last year's edition was a big help in that respect, uniting citizens behind the theme of reuse and repair, keeping things in the virtuous circle for as long as possible, and showing how much local authorities can do in the transition to a more circular economy.

 

I should also add that the week has been a big influence on the development of the European Clean-Up Day. I have taken part in clean-up actions in various Member States, and the EWWR is a theme that often comes up. And anything that is helping mobilize volunteers in 28 Member States at the same time is clearly doing something right!

 

I'd like to spend a little of my time this morning walking you through some new policy initiatives, to show you how they are going in the same direction as the European Week for Waste Reduction. Two things mainly, the new legislative waste package, and the new plastics strategy, that we'll be hearing a lot more about very soon.

 

I'll start with the waste package.

 

In a matter of days, Europe's Environment ministers will finally sign new waste legislation into law, making the EU a global front-runner in waste management and recycling. 

 

What we have ended up isn't exactly the Commission proposal, but it is a close match, reconciling ambitious long-term targets with the realities on the ground.

 

For municipal waste, the recycling targets are set at 55% in 2025, which will increase to 65% in 2035 and the landfill reduction target is 10% by 2035. For packaging waste, the overall recycling targets are set at 65% in 2025 and 70% in 2030.

 

Stricter rules for calculating recycling will help monitor progress towards the circular economy. There are derogations for Member States that are starting from a more difficult position, but these derogations are limited and time-bound.

 

But there is much more to this than targets. The new legislation provides the tools to make change happen. It foresees more use of effective economic instruments in support of the waste hierarchy, stricter provisions on separate collection to boost the quality of secondary raw materials, and ideas to help those markets grow.

 

There is also a bigger role for producers, with extended producer responsibility requirements to enable business to work for the circular economy in a cost-efficient way. All packaging will be covered by mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes by 2025.

 

And coming back to our main theme today, the new legislation places a particular focus on waste prevention. There are major new objectives such as reducing food waste by 50%, and halting marine litter. Increasing reuse will also be a priority, in particular through rewarding the reuse of sales packaging in the context of the packaging recycling targets.

 

And now a few words about the Plastics Strategy.

 

There is no doubt that plastics bring tremendous benefits. I'm looking at you through glasses made of plastic. This is a massively important industry, with a turnover of 340 billion euros and a workforce of 1.5 million people. So it's vital we get the strategy right.

 

And the need is very real. Every year European consumers generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste and only 30% of it is recycled. The plastic waste in our environment and oceans is having a dramatic impact. Every year, between 150 000 and 500 000 tonnes of plastic waste originating in the EU ends up in the oceans. If we carry on like that, there will be more plastic than fish in our seas by 2050.

 

Our proposal is for a smart, innovative and sustainable plastics industry, with reuse and recycling activities integrated into production chains. A vision that will support more sustainable and safer consumption and production patterns for plastics, creating a wealth of opportunities.

 

The core of this vision is making all plastic packaging reusable or easily recyclable by 2030. We'll get there by stimulating design for circularity, boosting recycled content and better separate waste collection.

 

We will support the creation of more stable markets for recycled plastics. This is necessary as the uptake of recycled plastics in new plastics is too low, at only 6%, and we need additional efforts to ensure safe, high-quality recycling.

 

One core aim is to tackle marine litter, and with that in mind we are working on a legal proposal to tackle single use plastics and fishing gear. We intend to present the proposal within a few weeks.

 

Microplastics are a particular challenge, polluting our soil and waters, entering the food chain and floating in the air we breathe. Work is already underway to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products like cosmetics and paints, and other streams are in the pipeline.

 

And there is also a major effort to promote research and innovation on plastics on the way. We will develop a Strategic Research Innovation Agenda for Plastics, aiming to guide funding future EU funding decisions, and we have foreseen additional 100 million euros until 2020 under Horizon 2020 for projects focusing on plastics innovation.

 

As marine litter is a global problem, we are fostering bilateral and multilateral cooperation in fora such as the UN, the G7 and the G20 to address this problem.

 

And last but not least, we are working very closely with business on this file. It is only by working with the industry that we will be able to fulfil the vision of a new plastics economy, with benefits for all.

 

'Benefits for all brings' reminds me of my last point – I hope you have noticed, ladies and gentlemen, that this is Green Week! It's the biggest annual event on the EU environmental calendar, with literally hundreds of events taking place in almost all Member States.

 

This year we are really taking it to the heart of citizens' concerns, with a focus on Green Cities. We are exploring how the EU is helping cities to become better places to live and work, and showcasing developments on air quality, noise, waste and water management. I hope you have the chance to participate.

 

The main message I want to pass is that any city can become a green city – providing all actors are engaged. A green city is a happy city, because it's a place where people know their voices count. Here at the Committee of the Regions you know all about that, and you know all about the importance of engaging citizens.

 

My thanks for all your help in encouraging local authorities across Europe to start this process in their cities. We need more debates with representatives of all communities – businesses, NGOs, citizens – to decide together how cities can make the changes we all need. The degree of engagement we see in the EWWR is a great example of how it can work. Let's find ways of using that momentum, and building the green cities of tomorrow that citizens clearly want.

 

Thank you.

*  *  * 

Check against delivery