Visions and ambitions for a circular economy in Norway

Minister of Climate and Environment Sveinung Rotevatn's speech at the Circular Economy Conference in Oslo.

Thank you for the invitation to the 4th Norwegian Circular Economy Conference.

Circular economy is "hot stuff" these days. I have lost count of how many times I have been in debates, seminars and meetings about circular economy. It seems like everybody wants to debate how we recycle and reuse our waste. Or, to be more precise, how we do not reuse our waste.

Waste is only one part of a circular economy. 80 percent of a product's environmental footprint is decided when it is designed.

If products are packaged in clear plastic rather than black plastic, sorting machines will be able to sort them correctly.

If airpods were not glued together we could change the battery rather than buy new ones.

These are small, but everyday examples of the changes we need to use resources more efficiently.

A circular economy is not really a recent invention. It's rather an old tradition. My grandparents knew how to save resources and reuse them. Single-use items didn't exist. Broken things were mended, and clothes were repaired. This was a virtue of necessity.

Should we then return to the past? No, we need to create a circular economy of today. The reason we don’t want to just use the same products year after year, is because we want new, better solutions. We can learn from our grandparent's mentality but use today's digital tools and technology.

The problem is not really that we buy a new phone, the problem is that in the process we are throwing away the old one. That way, a circular economy is not about limiting yourself to old technology. It is about creating new technology, new opportunities, better products and better services.

At the same time, we can use fewer resources and reduce emissions. Green growth is possible. To its core, it is actually rather simple: Cut emissions and use resources in a sustainable way.

Deloitte has identified how we can use fewer resources and emissions, they have identified the barriers and potential for a circular economy in Norway. I am very much looking forward to reading the third report that they will present today.

In their former reports, Deloitte pointed to industries with a high potential for circularity.

They are:

  • First; construction and real estate
  • Second; retail
  • Third; agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and fisheries
  • and finally, the process industry

Then we have to ask ourselves: How do we do it? Just as the latest report does.

In general, the Government has three main measures for implementing politics: taxation, regulation and support schemes.

All three of them must work for increased circularity.

We already have environmental taxes on bottles and cans, and several other things.
A major problem is nevertheless that we do not value natural resources highly enough, at their true value.

To make it profitable to recycle plastic instead of creating new from petroleum, it has to cost more to emit CO2. The cost of the environment must be more reflective in the cost of the products.

When it comes to regulations, they are obviously quite important. We can use them to force producers to make durable and reusable products. Requirements for using recycled materials in new products is one way to strengthen the market.

An example of this is new regulations that we implemented from July 1st this year, where we made it easier to use concrete from buildings in new infrastructure projects, as filling mass.

When it comes to support schemes, the Norwegian government has several of them. Last year, ENOVA paid out a record high 5,6 billion Norwegian kroner to more than 22.000 projects in energy and climate.

I should add that we also have important tools in voluntary agreements and extended producer responsibility.

On good example on this is the food waste agreement of 2017.

If you want to bake one loaf of bread, it requires grain from about two square meters of soil. In Norway, we're wasting on average 100.000 loafs of bread everyday. In a year that's 73 square kilometres of soil.

We are working together with the food industry to cut food waste. In 2017, Norwegian authorities signed a voluntary agreement with the industry. And now, 3 years later, 104 companies have joined the agreement to cut food waste in half by 2030.

All key stakeholders are involved: From soil and sea to table, via food manufacturers, restaurant and supermarkets.

And we can already see the results. Food waste was reduced by 12 percent between 2015 and 2018. We are on target to reach the goal.

Producers should pay for their pollution. That is why we have extended producer responsibility for several products. The producer is responsible for the product also after it becomes waste.

We are currently using this tool for cars and batteries, tires and electronic waste among other things. I have recently asked the Norwegian Environment Agency to consider how this tool can be used more efficient and how it can cover more products in the future.   

We need more knowledge about circularity, and we need to share the available knowledge.

There are still many questions to be answered:

  • How are the products designed?
  • Are they easy to reuse?
  • Is it easy to utilize the waste as a secondary raw material?
  • What can we use the by-products from industry for?
  • How can we strengthen the markets for secondary goods and raw materials?
  • Can we replace products with services, not to mention digital services?

Norway has a long tradition in cooperation between the government, the research community and non-governmental organizations.

In building a more circular economy, we must create new platforms for cooperation across sectors and industries.

In our work with the circular economy strategy, ten ministries are cooperating, in close connection with the industry. Cross-ministerial cooperation can be challenging, but it is the only way to go forwards.

In the same way, companies must cooperate with each other across industries. This means setting requirements for other links in the value chain, such as requirements for material use, functions, energy use and handling of waste.

And, we must cooperate across borders. Most of the products we use are produced in other countries. For Norway, as a small, open economy, it is very important to cooperate with the EU in this area. Together we are taking the lead.

A circular economy is a transition to creating value and jobs within our planetary boundaries. That is why the EU has launched the circular economy as the key to a clean and competitive Europe by 2050.

To conclude: We need to create a bigger market for secondary materials. And to succeed, we need to cooperate.

Our ambition is to be a leading country in developing a green, circular economy that makes more efficient use of resources. The upcoming strategy is a first step.

Circular economy is not only about taking care of the environment. It also about creating competitiveness for Norwegian businesses.

So that is why I call on you to seize the opportunities in the new circular economy.

We don't always know what the future brings, but we do know that changes happen even faster than ever before.

And we also know that environmental regulations will continue to sharpen, in Norway and across borders. The winners will be those who are moving ahead, and not lagging behind.

Thank you, everyone!