How to reduce the impacts of plastic products on the marine environment?

Held by The Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen at a forum on plastic pollution organised by EURACTIV. Brussels, Wednesday 11 July 2018

Welcome everyone!

• I am glad that we have brought together all these important actors today. Our concern is to reduce plastic waste in the oceans. We must continue Europe’s leadership on this important topic!

• The levels of plastic in our oceans increase rapidly. This is a global concern of humankind.

• Marine litter crosses borders and must be addressed across borders.

• Plastic litter threatens life in our oceans, the living resources we need for food and a sustainable blue economy.

• All this plastic ending up in the environment is also a huge waste of resources. Instead, we need a circular economy. We must reduce, reuse and recycle. Our job as politicians is to make it easier for people and companies to act environmentally friendly.

• Combatting marine litter and micro plastics is high priority for my government. In 2014, Norway brought this issue to the global agenda in the United Nations Environment Assembly.

• In December last year, the countries of the world agreed on a zero vision for discharge of litter and micro plastics to the oceans. I am grateful for the close collaboration we have with the EU on this issue and on our preparations for the Our Oceans conference in Oslo in 2019.

• Norway is grateful for working closely with the EU in the preparations for the Our Ocean Conference in Oslo in 2019. We must strengthen the global commitment to combat marine litter. Europe is a frontrunner, and today we will focus on our efforts. Dialogue and cooperation is key to solve these problems.

• Norway welcomes the Commission's plastics strategy and the initiative on plastic products found on European beaches. We find the same products on beaches in Norway.

• In June last year, the government presented a White Paper to the Parliament on waste policies in a circular economy. It includes a Plastics Strategy on how to reduce marine litter and micro plastics.

• The Norwegian Environment Agency has identified key sources of marine litter and micro plastics in Norway. The largest sources is consumer products and waste from fisheries and aquaculture.

• The Agency has done a similar assessment for sources of micro plastics.

• Now we examine the measures proposed by the Agency. We hope to get several robust measures in place in the near future.

• Rubber granulates used on artificial sports fields is one of the largest sources for micro plastic leaks in Norway. The Government wants a new regulation to prevent rubber granulates to leak into the environment.

• The proposed directive on single-use plastics and fishing gear presents a broad set of measures. A broad range of different measures are proposed, ranging from market restrictions and consumption reductions, to extended producer responsibilities and awareness raising.

• It is essential that these measures are knowledge based and appropriate for the environmental problem they aim at addressing. We must not replace one environmental problem by another.

• In Norway, littering is forbidden by law, and we have a high waste collection rate. However single-use plastic articles and fishing gear still find their way into our oceans.

• An effective measure is producer responsibility for packaging. This means that a producer or importer of packaging must cover the cost for information, prevention, collection and treatment of their waste. In Norway, we are now considering if it also should include clean-up of litter.

• Several Norwegian and Swedish actors are working together to stimulate use of “circular” plastic packaging.

• The largest Norwegian producers have shown a willingness to learn, cooperate and share examples of best practice. This work has already resulted in concrete results.

• The National Environment Agency is now working on a producer responsibility scheme for plastic products used by the aquaculture and fisheries. This means that producers and importers of fishing nets have to take care of them when they are discarded. It might also include a responsibility for design and clean-up of litter.

• Nine Norwegian harbours are part of "Fishing for Litter". This is a project where litter collected at sea can be returned for free. We are now considering a similar system nation-wide.

• We also have a system that ensures a high return rate of plastic bottles, through an environmental tax on bottles and drinking cans. Bottles and cans get a lower tax depending on the return percentage. This gives the industry a good reason to establish return systems for bottles.

• Many of the producers of plastic bottles charge a fee that consumers get back when they return the bottle. This system is created by the industry themselves. We have in 2018 raised the fee to give the consumers an even stronger incentive. 88 percent of plastic bottles are returned in Norway today. You find reverse vending machines in every grocery store.

• A lot can also be done by every one of us to use less unnecessary single-use plastics. I have started a process towards an agreement on the reduction of unnecessary single-use plastics in Norway.

• A broad list of actors takes part, from producers and importers to the retail sector, convenience stores and cafes.

• But there is no reason to wait. We can act now. Last week, I celebrated the Norwegian shipping company Hurtigruten, the world's first single-use plastics free ship owning company.

• Also, Norwegian retailers have launched the "Norwegian Retailers Environment Fund." The fund is expected to mobilise substantial funds for combatting marine litter, and reduce the use of plastic carrier bags.

• As of 15 August, the members will contribute with 5 cent from each plastic carrier bag to the fund. The fund is expected to leverage between 30 and 40 million EUROs a year.

• These new and innovative solutions give me hope that we can achieve much through common efforts from all actors!

• Norway will actively follow the discussions concerning the Directive, and contribute to the further development. It is currently on public hearing in Norway.

• I thank you all for coming and look forward to the discussion on this topic.