Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
and thank you for this opportunity to say a few words.
This is a period of great change, globally and within the European Union. Romania too has gone through enormous changes in the last few decades, more significant perhaps than any other Member State. You’ve taken huge strides, and seen economic growth that must have seemed an impossible dream not so long ago.
But this economic transformation is still ongoing. There is still a lot to do with greater benefits ahead.
To do this we must embrace that change. And the changes I want to talk about today aren't just for Romania. They are a process that affects the whole of Europe, in fact it's fair to say that it's a genuinely global process, where no one should be left behind.
I'm going to centre these remarks around waste, but as you’ll see, I’m actually talking about something completely different. If you look back over EU attitudes to waste, you see some very interesting shifts. Europe has had laws in this area since 1975, but in the early days, the only thing that mattered was the effect of waste on human health, and on the environment.
There was an awareness that saving resources was probably a good thing, but it wasn't really an obligation. That started to change in the 1990s, when specific recycling targets were introduced. An even bigger change came in 2008, when the Waste Framework Directive brought in the waste hierarchy. This placed prevention at the top, followed by reuse, recycling and so on, with disposal at the bottom.
You probably know all that. But perhaps you don’t know what happened next. The change I want to underline is the biggest change of all, and it only happened a few months ago, when the Waste Framework Directive was revised.
If you read the preamble today, you will already know what I am referring to.
Right there in the very first paragraph, the whole of Europe has signed up to a rethink of its economy. One of the central goals of waste policy is now promoting the circular economy. And as the directive explicitly says, a circular economy provides new economic opportunities and contributes to Europe's long-term competitiveness.
That is the future that Romania has signed up to, the one that the whole of Europe has signed up to, and I am here because I want to help you, as we say for resources; “to close that loop”.
We all know that there is a lot of work to do. We outlined this in September, when Romania was one of the 13 Member States to receive an “early warning” report. The municipal waste recycling rate is 13%, a long way from the 50% required by 2020. And the long term targets are even more ambitious – 65% in 2035. Landfilling needs to come down to 10 percent by that date, from 69% in the latest reports.
Those percentages aren’t just about waste. They are a sign of wasted opportunities. Opportunities to get major benefits from your waste, which aren't being taken.
So I am here today with experts from all over Europe to help you do that. They want to share their experience of getting on the virtuous path to a circular economy. They will explain how they found those economic incentives; how they identified the latent value in their waste resources, and how they invested in smart ways to extract that value.
We want to concentrate on practical steps, and see what improvements can come about as result of strategic choices at local, regional and national levels.
When you look at these success stories, a number of features stand out. They are all important, and they can all be replicated.
First of all, they bring together the main actors for each stream. Producers and recyclers, local authorities and service providers – to make sure that the loops are literally closed through better communications.
Secondly, they share an obvious goal. That gives investors the clarity and predictability they need.
Thirdly, they all use economic instruments to provide an incentive for the move towards more circular methods. If burying your waste is the cheapest option, why would anyone do anything different?
Fourthly, they identify the best material flows for creating value. Circumstances are always different, and some Member States will have natural advantages for certain materials, and they should be made a priority.
And lastly, they actually set out to change patterns of consumption. So they use new business models that reduce waste, rethinking the way they interact with consumers.
Good waste management is fundamental in any switch to a more circular economy. When that isn’t happening, it’s often for a simple reason – the laws are there, but they aren’t being put into practice. There is too little separate collection. There is weak implementation of the polluter pays principle. There are too few economic instruments, and there is confusion about responsibility. But all these things can be fixed.
If you want to meet the targets, then you need to be clear about who is responsible for that, and you need an effective system to enforce the targets. We are well aware of the challenges, and they are acknowledged in your waste management plan. But solutions are beginning to emerge. I welcome in particular the deposit scheme for bottles, the improvements to your extended producer responsibility system, and the stronger push for separate waste collection.
They are a good start, and now is the time to make the most of this momentum, and lay a solid foundation for further progress. That means discouraging landfilling with economic instruments, and systematic separate collection for glass, plastic, metal, paper and, increasingly, biowaste as well.
Passing the responsibility for organising the system to local authorities may not be enough – they will probably need some technical support and policy advice as well.
When citizens know what to do, and when the economic incentives are there, then action follows naturally. We see this all over Europe. Well-designed economic instruments, coupled with information campaigns, often bring rapid change.
There is EU funding available to help make it happen, providing it’s channelled in the right direction. It has to support and complement other efforts to implement of the waste hierarchy, with the forward-looking perspective of higher recycling targets in mind.
[Circular Economy Actions Specific for Romania]
As I said at the beginning, this isn’t about waste. It’s about using waste to help your economy grow, and building up Romania’s circular economy. That means identifying the potential drivers, and eliminating the barriers that are holding you back.
You already have a wealth of natural resources, so sectors like agriculture and forestry are well placed to join the sustainable bio-economy.
You also have a competitive labour market and a strong industrial base, producing a wide range of goods for the European and world markets. Importing secondary materials for recycling while landfilling your own resources makes no sense while you could become a regional champion of the Circular Economy and make your industry even more competitive.
Circularity is all about involvement, and that’s also true at the administrative level. If you want more circularity, you need in-depth discussions between different ministries, with the close involvement of local authorities and businesses. That way you are ready for the opportunities ahead, and when separate collection and recycling bring new streams of secondary materials, you can put them to use at once.
Ladies and gentlemen,
change is sometimes a little disruptive, but these changes are for the good of all. Don’t take my word for it – listen instead to the experts that are here with me. They are bringing real world examples, showing that it can be done, and that it can happen here in Romania, sooner than you imagine.
If you need more inspiration, you can visit the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform's website. This website is a living thing, so please share your own stories, if you think they could be of use.
I know there are challenges ahead, but we will walk this road together. This is the second of many similar events that I will be hosting in other Member States that face the same challenges. Isolation is never the answer. We always have much to learn from our neighbours, and a network of Member States sharing their experiences would be a tremendously useful output from these missions, for all concerned.
Thank you for your attention, and do make the most of today.
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