Toespraak staatssecretaris Van Veldhoven op Keio University

Toespraak van staatssecretraris Van Veldhoven op de Keio Universiteit in Tokio op 14 juni 2019. De tekst van de toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Thank you, Professor Kaji, for your introduction.

It is a great pleasure to be here at Keio University, in particular because of the special ties this university has with my country. I am referring of course to your founder, Mr Fukuzawa. In the 19th century he travelled across Europe – including the Netherlands. And he studied the Dutch language.

I gather that at the time he was unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet! So it was an amazing achievement. His motivation was simple and powerful – I quote from his autobiography: “If other people can learn the Dutch language, I think I can too."

He must have a lot of followers at this university! How many of you can speak Dutch? Would you like me to continue in Dutch?

Okay then – English seems a better alternative….Japanese might be too challenging for me!

Being here, speaking to you in this setting, reminds me of when I was a student. Years ago, I studied in Paris and lived in a very small room alongside a lot of other international students. My time there certainly taught me how important and interesting it is to exchange ideas with people from other countries. Especially on the subject of climate, energy and resources.  

After all, there’s a lot at stake – the future of subsequent generations! For me, that’s a major incentive. It’s the reason I went into politics, in fact. But my background no doubt played a role.

This is where I grew up. A small village in the Betuwe region of the Netherlands, on the banks of the River Waal, surrounded by farmland.
I grew up in a farmhouse with a kitchen garden. We ate vegetables we’d grown ourselves and the leftovers went to the chickens. So for me the circular economy was quite simple: don’t waste anything!

When the river burst its banks in the 1990s the event made a deep impression on me. Many of our neighbours and friends were evacuated. I witnessed and felt what climate change can do. Experiences I’ll never forget.  

The big facts and the big moments came later.

A fact.
Over the next 35 years, the world’s population will grow by a third. By 2050 there’ll be 10 billion of us. All these people will need a proper home, food, clothes, perhaps a car and a smartphone. Like every other generation before them, they’ll hope to live healthy, safe and prosperous lives.
We’re going to need tonnes of resources!

A moment.
Paris 2015. I was there. A magical, unforgettable moment! And an enormously powerful signal from all the world’s political leaders to put the world on track to fight climate change. It inspired me then, and it inspires me now!

Having said that, there’s one aspect that we tend to overlook: smarter, more efficient use of raw materials. Until recently, climate talks and actions have merely focused on sustainable energy and energy savings. A growing body of research confirms that more sparing use of raw materials can substantially reduce industrial carbon emissions. If the Paris agreement is a jigsaw puzzle, the circular economy is the missing piece! We desperately need scarce raw materials like cobalt, gallium and platinum for our energy transition. That’s crucial in reaching our climate goals.

Knowing this, it’s important to boost international awareness of the circular economy. We are making progress.

It’s very significant that Japan will be raising the issue of the circular economy at the G20 Summit later this month. I was delighted when my Japanese counterpart Tsukasa Akimoto announced this last year at the World Circular Economy Forum in Japan. Japan is showing leadership! And I look forward to hearing more about this. We are working with Finland to organize the WCEF 2021, which will be held in the Netherlands! You are all invited!

Countries are systematically failing to discuss the if of the circular economy. Instead, it’s all about ‘how’. When it comes to the how, I’m an optimist. We can make it work!

We know how to generate sustainable energy. We’re increasing our understanding of how to use raw materials more efficiently.  We have bright individuals looking at the world around them with fresh eyes. Thinking: this can be done better, smarter, with less waste. Companies are finding new business models. Including well-known multinationals like Philips and DSM.

Philips Health is developing a new approach to re-manufacturing big and complex instruments like MRI scanners. They’re investing in a take-back system for hospitals. After refurbishing and updating, old scanners will get a new life.

DSM has got together with the start-up company Niaga to develop a new technology for recycling carpets. All carpets made with this technology can be 100% recycled and made into new carpets of the same volume and quality, again and again. We’re talking about 4.5 billion square metres of carpet, tiles and rugs every year!

Or take new, upcoming companies like Black Bear and Ioniqa. Black Bear creates value out of discarded car tyres. A technology with great potential for scaling up, because every country has to deal with this type of waste!

And Ioniqa has developed an innovative technology to recycle PET bottles, textiles and carpets infinitely. It has joined forces with big players like Unilever and Indorama, a global PET producer. Right now they’re building a new plant in the Netherlands.

We’re also experimenting with circular neighbourhoods – I recently opened a reusable viaduct. And of course, we are a country of bicycles: we’ve already developed the first circular bike paths. For me, this drive and creativity is very inspiring. [Maybe you are working on new circular concepts?]

The question is: How can we go from start up to scale up?

It starts with ambition. The Netherlands has made a shift in policy. We are working to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050. By 2030 we want to have cut primary raw materials use by half. We’re one of the first countries to set an actual target for this.

We’re not talking about businesses; we’re talking and working with them to overcome legal and financial barriers. That’s why we’ve drawn up action plans, together with representatives of our leading economic sectors – such as plastics, construction and manufacturing.

  • This year we’ve adopted a new national programme to implement these agreements.
  • We’re developing new design standards, based on the principle of re-use.
  • We are investing in education – we need a change in design for instance. We need new thinkers, designers and builders.

The government can make a difference. 2 examples.

  1. We’re stimulating the market, for instance, through circular procurement across central government. Government – as the launching customer – is a big player on the market, with direct influence on 15 to 20 per cent of GDP. For example: all military uniforms will now be re-used. In the past, discarded uniforms were incinerated. Now, there’s a new business model, with the government as the launching customer.
  2. Plastic pact. This year we’ve drawn up a plastic pact with a lot of big companies.

It’s time to turn the tide. To clean up the plastic soup. To start treating waste plastic as a raw material. To stop seeing it as a single-use product that can be carelessly discarded or burned.

A lot of companies do feel the urgency and are listening to consumer demands. They just want guidance and an agenda with shared ambitions.

  • I’m proud of the firm agreements we’ve made with these businesses!
  • By 2025, all their single-use plastic products and packaging will be 100 per cent recyclable.
  • They will use 20 per cent less plastic.
  • By 2025, at least 35 per cent of their products will be made from recycled plastic.

The pact is changing the plastics market. And now we’re developing a European pact!

We are learning by doing. Learning from other countries. Like Japan. It’s very interesting to learn from the great success you had in promoting recycling with effective regulation. Maybe you can share your ideas with me during our discussion. The challenge is huge, and we can certainly use some help from bright minds like yourselves!

It’s great that Japanese and Dutch businesses are working together. Like the Japanese company Morodomi Furniture Promotion Cooperative Society and the Dutch company Noble Environmental Technologies. Together they will develop circular design for the furniture of the Olympic Games you are hosting in 2020. What a platform! The first circular Olympics! A new dimension of the five Olympic circles!

To conclude.

The circular economy is starting to spread its wings. It’s going from start-up to scale-up.

It is possible to grow an economy with less impact on the environment. With less impact on resources. And at a lower cost. This is a goal to which you can all contribute. Through your ideas, knowledge and research.

Let’s share those ideas. I believe that’s exactly what Mr Fukuzama had in mind when he founded this university.  I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Thank you.