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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Green Dot 2010 – Green Economy in Action

Square – Brussels Meeting Centre, Brussels 7 October 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen

As Patron of the 5th International PRO EUROPE Congress,

I am delighted to introduce the theme of this year's congress:… "Green Economy in Action".

Today, when we think about the environment and its relationship to our economies, we realise we are going to have to think 'outside the box'… and who better to ask to think outside the box than experts in packaging recovery!

To put the problem we face simply, we have to find a new way to grow.

We simply cannot go on growing the way we did in the past. In the 20th Century the world population grew 4 times, and economic output 40 times. We increased our fossil fuel use by

16 times, our fishing catches by 35, and our water use by 9.

This has been called the great acceleration. It has been a triumph for generations of humans that have so successfully mastered so many obstacles to bring us such unimagined health and prosperity.

Today we are still accelerating, but if we don't keep our eyes on the road we will drive straight into a wall. The world's population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. By 2030, there will be 1.2 billion with ‘middle class’ consumption levels in the now-developing world. Yet the world is the same size. Most of its resources are finite. Some of those resources are already over-used.

That is why resource efficiency is a key part of the Europe 2020 strategy – our strategy for structural transformation of the European economy. Resource Efficiency is one of the seven 'flagship' initiatives, which will be launched as part of that strategy.

Eco-industries are at the heart of the transformation we must achieve through Europe 2020. They are the 21st century drivers for growth and jobs, but they are also producing what we call "enabling" technologies and services. The green economy – our eco-tech companies - are the basis for greening the economy as a whole. The basis for decoupling our growth from resource use.

Political momentum on resource efficiency is high. It was the theme of discussion at the Informal Environment Council held in Ghent earlier in July. European environment ministers see the importance of being efficient with resources. There is a broad consensus that current patterns of production and consumption and related material use in Europe are making both the availability of natural resources and the security of supply vulnerable. This means that Europe needs to work towards an absolute decoupling of environmental impact from rising wealth.

Put simply, we need to do more with less.

But how? Next year we will publish the strategic agenda for resource efficiency that will set out how we will meet our Europe 2020 goals.

o It is already clear that this must be an integrated approach: we can no longer consider environment policy as distinct from agricultural policy, from industrial policy, from energy, transport, fisheries, trade or regional policies.

It must run through each of those policies;

o It is already clear that we have to steer towards a green economy, rather than cleaning up the problems caused by economic activity: we need cleaner industry, not just cleaning-up industries. The Waste Framework Directive is an example of the direction we should be heading in: it clearly puts reuse of products and prevention of waste higher up the waste hierarchy – not just mopping up the problem after it has happened.

o It is clear that we cannot try to operate in opposition to the markets. We must shape the playing field for market activity and harness its power. But we must also act where the market fails. We must make sure that the predictability and legal certainty are there for businesses to make the right medium and long term investment decisions.

o And finally, it is clear that we must act on many levels and with many partners. Through Europe 2020 we will be working closely with national governments, but we need to work with innovators and entrepreneurs, with cities and regions, and with many other stakeholders.

When I speak about resource efficiency, some assume that I am talking only about energy, or only about raw materials. But let me be clear that we are talking about the wide range of the resources we depend on, our air, our water, our land, our biodiversity and our natural resources.

And of course that includes our waste. A resource which we have 'wasted' for too long.

When most people think of waste they think of something left over, something to be disposed of…but we know that waste is a valuable resource.

Because of this, EU waste policies promote a more efficient use of resources through the idea of a "waste hierarchy", putting prevention, re-use and recycling before other more traditional means of treatment. This change of emphasis saves resources and emissions related to the manufacture of new products. It also provides opportunities for new jobs. The waste management and recycling industries today employ one and half million people and account for a turnover of more than 1 % of EU GDP.

In the past 20 years, we have laid the foundations of a recycling society. We have fixed recycling targets which have re-shaped the management of different waste streams. The amount of waste dumped in landfills decreased from 65 % to 40 % between 1995 and 2007. The recycling rate of municipal solid waste doubled from 19% to 38% between 1998 and 2007.

PRO EUROPE and its members can take some credit for setting up the structures that put recycling firmly on the map. Producer responsibility has also had a positive impact on the way products are designed.

Waste prevention has been less of a success. Waste generation continues to grow, making waste prevention a key priority.

The new Waste Framework Directive makes the waste hierarchy compulsory in the development of future waste management policies. In addition, Member States must set up national waste prevention programmes by 2013.

This is good, but it is still not enough.

We need bolder action to move progressively to an absolute reduction of waste generation. We need business to be more engaged in finding the most effective ways to introduce waste prevention in the business models of waste management companies.

The organisation and performance of the producer responsibility systems differs greatly in different Member States. For example, Belgium, achieved a record recycling rate of 80.4 % for packaging and packaging waste in 2007. In other Member States packaging recycling has not reached those levels.

I don't believe that we need more legislation here. I have been saying this since my initial hearing in front of the Parliament at the beginning of this year. I want to use existing law more efficiently. And this includes waste legislation, where we see hugely different levels of success across Europe.

The most successful Member States are combining legal and economic instruments. This approach includes, for instance, increasing taxes on waste generation, on landfill or incineration combined with extended producer responsibility systems for different waste flows. The ongoing review of the Thematic Strategy on waste prevention and recycling offers a good opportunity to learn from these kinds of successful legislative mixes.

In this sense, your organisation can really help by spreading best practice from the most advanced Member States to other regions and countries. In the future, we need to evolve towards standardised functioning and control mechanisms of producer responsibility systems. This will create a level playing field and let everyone feel the benefit.

Furthermore, even though producer responsibility started with packaging, it is a model that can be applied to different products and sectors, for example to waste from electrical and electronic equipment or scrapped cars.

We need to think about the materials which result from recycling, the secondary raw materials. We are establishing end-of-waste criteria for these materials. Also, more and more waste is exported outside the EU to be recycled. This is a loss of valuable resources. New measures are necessary to support the sustainability of the recycling processes and products in Europe. For example we should assess the possibilities of giving market advantages to recycled materials compared to virgin materials as well as to making markets for waste – industrial symbiosis – work better on the European level.

There is a saying that 'prevention is better than cure' – and taking action only at the end of the product life cycle will not get us too far in greening the economy.

We need more coherence between waste and product policies, which deals with all stages of a product's 'life'.

Eco-design criteria could support the prevention and recycling objectives through integration of recycled content in new products, for example. Furthermore, when developing new products, end-of-life aspects, particularly recyclability, should be a first consideration of the product's design.


Up until now, I've spoken about waste and our political drive to building a resource efficient mentality across Europe. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the idea of sustainable consumption and production in the Green Economy

Sustainable Consumption and Production policies are an important element of the resource efficiency agenda.

By producing 'more with less', goods are becoming more resource efficient. For instance, by setting benchmarks of environmental performance as required by the Ecodesign directive, products are becoming more efficient also in the use phase. The first 9 ecodesign implementing measures adopted are estimated to allow yearly savings by 2020 equivalent to nearly 13 % of the EU electricity consumption of 2007.

But there is no time for complacency. Our aim now is to move from energy efficiency to fully-fledged resource efficiency. The SCP instruments need to be further strengthened and scaled-up. Perhaps by extending the scope of the Ecodesign directive to all manufactured products with significant environmental impact.

On the demand side, another opportunity to make SCP instruments work better is to align Ecolabel and Green Public Procurement criteria, thus creating a bigger and more accessible market for sustainable products. Having in mind that about 15% of EU GDP is spent by public authorities, Green Public Procurement is an obvious win-win situation that EU and Member States cannot afford to miss.

Addressing the demand side is a big challenge and we need partners at every level who can influence consumer choices in their everyday lives. Partners like the Retail Forum for Sustainability, which aims to widen the choice of greener products in the shelves; and improve the environmental performance of retailers themselves. To that effect retailers published recently a voluntary Code of Conduct, a good example of how a whole sector can move towards more sustainability.

Another complementary example is the European Food Round Table – a voluntary initiative to increase the sustainability of the food chain. After its first year the round table delivered with the "Guiding Principles for the environmental assessment of food products and communication tools". These give us a sound basis for changing patterns in the food chain.

Finally we need to change attitudes of society to waste. Earlier this year I took part in a "Clean Up Slovenia in one Day" campaign. I was amazed to see just how much waste is illegally dumped in my country – which I always considered to be very clean. But the real difference didn't happen in a day, it happened in the weeks before the clean-up day, and it has been happening ever since, in the minds of Slovenians.

Ladies and Gentlemen

We have to learn to make the best possible use of the resources available to us on this Earth. This throws up both challenges and opportunities from environmental, economic and social perspective.

And this is why resource efficiency is – and will continue to be – one of the key priorities for my mandate. Waste management, producer responsibility systems, and SCP policies all have a great part to play.

We just need to be more ambitious, always aim higher, make better use of the instruments we have and learn from each other's successes and failures.

I applaud the objectives of this Congress. I know it will be a constructive and practical forum on the potential contribution of the waste management sector to the development of the green economy.

I wish you a successful day and I look forward both to seeing the outcomes and working with you in the future on how we can build your innovations into our future policy.

I said at the beginning about the importance of thinking out of the box – perhaps now its time for me to wrap up…

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