June 5, 2023 4:16 pm

Minister Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe, and Foreign Affairs of France

Christophe Béchu Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion of France

My thanks to the government of France for hosting this high-level event.

We are meeting ahead of the second round of negotiations on the global deal to end plastic pollution. These negotiations are critical, because we will set the mandate and pathway towards an agreement, and this matters greatly. Because the agreement is, of course, critical to ending the plastic pollution that is damaging the natural world, oceans, human health, and the climate. 

Today, the leadership dialogues will focus on circularity and waste management. This is of course important. But let me also stress that the journey to a pollution-free world begins with reducing the size of the problem. Because one thing is clear: we cannot recycle our way out of this mess. Current recycling and waste management infrastructure cannot cope with the volume of plastic the linear economy is pumping out every day carelessly and needlessly. It will never be able to cope unless less plastic comes out of the system. 

So, what do we want to see from this agreement? The agreement must take a full life-cycle approach that reduces the size of the problem. It is all about redesign. Redesigning products so that they do not need to include plastic or be delivered in plastic. Why ship water around. Why not ship solids or dry powder? Get our engineers to redesign the products that we envelope in plastics. Redesign packaging to avoid using plastic or to use less plastic. Redesign systems and products so that the right to repair, reuse, refill and/or recyclability can be realised but remember, this is about recycling everything, not just the 9 per cent we do now. Redesign rules and incentives. It is absurd that what we take out of the belly of the earth i.e. new raw polymer is cheaper than recycled polymer. This must change. Redesign the broader system for justice – so that informal waste-pickers, what is called the Green Force in Sri Lanka, and other vulnerable communities are not left behind, but gain decent jobs and the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, now enshrined by the UN General Assembly. 

Get the redesign right, and we reduce overall plastic. Get the redesign right and our products are de-liquified and can be delivered with non-plastic materials. Get the redesign right and we create markets for repaired, refilled and reusable products. Get the redesign right, and recycled polymer is a valuable material, prized and guarded by companies, households, and governments. Get the redesign right and we massively increase recycling. 

Get the redesign right and we produce sustainable and safe plastic alternatives. 

Get the redesign right, and, with new investments, waste management becomes, well, manageable.

Get the redesign right and a new economy is created. Jobs are created. Opportunities are created. A clean and profitable economy in which the interests of local communities, indigenous people and informal waste workers are secured, with nobody left behind.

In a recent OpEd by Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever stated, and I quote: “Predictably, some companies are lobbying hard to undermine the talks, led by petrochemicals and fossil fuels. It is no secret that, as our societies embrace renewable energy more wholeheartedly, many in fossil fuels see the fast-growing plastic sector as a lifeboat.” I have said yesterday, do not jump into that lifeboat. Because it will capsize. Rather, steer your boat towards solutions that aim at crystal clean waters and the sandy beaches free of plastic debris. And here, of course, we must be sure that we do not walk away from legacy plastic that will continue to wash up on many shores for decades after we have closed the plastic tap. 

So, I say to all, be part of this change, because change is coming. Everyone – from every sector and every walk of life – must show ambition, determination, and innovation. We got ourselves into this mess. Now we have the chance to start on the solutions pathway. Starting today. 

So, I ask you: what will you commit to today? Thank you.

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