Opening speech by State Secretary Dr. Christiane Rohleder, on the opening of K 2022.

State Secretary Dr. Christiane Rohleder gives the opening speech at K 2022, the world's largest trade show for the plastics and rubber industry.

- The spoken word applies -

President Reifenhäuser,
Dr Düssel, Mr Wienkamp and Mr Bühler,
Esteemed guests,

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to open the K 2022 trade fair for Plastics and Rubber. Because it is held every three years, the K is taking place as scheduled unlike other large trade fairs and congresses. Although the pandemic didn't disrupt the schedule, we are now living in a very different world to the one we knew at K 2019.

I would very much like to be opening this event under more positive circumstances. However, the Russian attack on Ukraine has radically altered the lives of people in Europe and worldwide. On top of this, we are still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, delivery bottlenecks and disrupted supply chains. We find ourselves in a challenging situation.

And independent of this, the need for action is already immense. The irreversible impacts of human activities on the environment are becoming increasingly clear.

It is getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and the pollution of our planet are endangering our foundations of life.

With its three hot topics — circular economy, digitalisation and climate protection — K 2022 is touching on three key levers for tackling the three global crises. The only way to successfully take on these global crises is through a comprehensive transformation towards a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy.

We have all seen the distressing images of our oceans littered with plastic waste. This shows how important it is to achieve a truly circular economy, particularly for plastics.

It is therefore all the more encouraging to see so many impressive innovations here in the exhibition halls. We urgently need this innovation for the necessary transformation to a climate-neutral circular economy.

This year again, K is living up to its reputation as the world’s number 1 trade fair for plastics. The entire value chain of the plastics industry, from Germany and worldwide, is represented here. And visitors can see that there are a wide range of new, practical solutions in the application, processing and recycling of plastics. Many of these solutions can also contribute to the resource-efficient and sustainable management of plastics.

For the transformation of our society, all stakeholders, whether from industry, government or the public, have to develop new ideas and question time-tested and sometimes cherished practices. Society’s responsibility to achieve this transformation is an extremely demanding one. And it now needs to be accelerated, despite an economic crisis.

Some companies and branches of industry are at risk of going under because of increased raw materials and energy prices.

At the same time, high prices tie up capital. Capital that is not available to invest in climate action and circular economy. Nevertheless, it is crucial to stick to these kinds of investments to end the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and the pollution of our planet. And, economically speaking, we will have no future if we cannot successfully find a solution to all three crises.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need solutions that address multiple challenges:

We need environmentally sound solutions that advance climate action and environmental protection. They also have to make us more independent of raw materials from all corners of the world that are often extracted under questionable conditions.

Making the plastic cycle circular addresses both challenges and has enormous potential. 370 million tonnes of plastics are produced worldwide every year. Of this, almost 60 million tonnes are produced in the EU and just under 20 million tonnes in Germany. Increasing the use of recycled plastics reduces our carbon footprint and, at the same time, our dependence on fossil crude oil.

There is a lot untapped potential here: of the 29 million tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste collected, only about one third is recycled and one quarter still goes straight to landfills.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Plastics are indispensable in our modern society. Hardly any other material is as present in our daily lives as plastic.

The possibilities for using plastic are almost endless. Plastics are essential, for instance, in medical applications. Even the energy transition would not be inconceivable without plastics, for example for making high-strength and lightweight rotor blades or storage modules.

However, the advantages of plastics are offset by unresolved challenges. There is still significant potential for development in the area of circularity. Not every country has solid collection and disposal structures like Germany. Large amounts of plastic waste therefore end up in the environment, landfills or are incinerated — not just in Europe, but worldwide.

[Landfilling plastics is an unnecessary loss of material that can be recycled. This practice has long been prohibited in Germany. That is why the German government is pushing for the landfilling of untreated waste in Europe to be brought to an end as soon as possible.]

Badly managed landfills and plastic litter also run the risk of plastic entering the environment. Here again, we are reminded of the images of gigantic masses of plastics floating in our oceans. At this point, we are all aware of this problem. That is why a binding agreement to prevent plastic waste is currently being negotiated at the level of the United Nations.

Germany is a member of the High Ambition Coalition and is pushing for an ambitious agreement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need innovations in many areas. Recyclability has to be taken into account in the design stage. We need to use more recyclates, thereby reducing the use of primary raw materials. The use of harmful chemicals should be stopped. This also improves recyclability. And things have to be made more durable and repairable.

Especially in the case of plastics, we need to move from a still predominantly linear economy to a truly circular economy of plastics, in line with K 2022, which is rightly focussing on circular economy. These are major challenges for industry. The exchange of ideas about the entire value chain that will be facilitated here at K 2022 over the next few days is therefore all the more important.

But a good regulatory framework is also important.

A prominent example in the area of circular economy is the deposit refund system on single use PET bottles, which was introduced in Germany in 2003. A closed material cycle for PET bottles exists in Germany today because of this deposit system. The material from this cycle is of food-grade quality and in high demand. Another development brought about by the PET bottle deposit system is the use of recyclable coatings as oxygen barriers. The companies that made this possible are also here today.

One tonne of recyclate saves over one tonne of CO2 emissions. That is why the material recovery quotas for packaging waste set out in the German Packaging Act are so important. These quotas have given rise to innovations and investments in sorting and processing technology. And here at K, different companies are presenting further innovations in these technologies.

[Regulation can also support digitalisation: Innovative start ups have made use of the obligation to offer reusable take-away food packaging from 2023 to develop app-based digital deposit systems.]

With the revision of the EU Packaging Directive, we expect further provisions on “design for recycling” and closing economic cycles. This trade fair shows that the sector already offers many solutions in these areas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Commission has presented a work programme for the transformation in the form of the Green Deal. Circular economy and circular plastic cycles are important components of this strategy. We in Germany want to take on a leading role in this transformation.

We want to support development towards a comprehensive circular economy through a national circular economy strategy. In this strategy we will formulate goals and measures. I invite you to actively contribute to the dialogue process in the coming year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The bottle necks in raw material supply, shortage of chips and high energy prices all make clear that we have to turn our words into actions. The only way to ensure that Germany and Europe remain outstanding hubs for research and industry is to actively address these challenges. This is also the only way we can achieve our climate targets.

The K trade fair is the world’s largest trade fair that brings together representatives from plastics production, processing and recycling. The fact that this event is happening in Germany shows that Germany is a global leader in the production of plastics, in recycling and also in the development of new technologies and materials. I am looking forward to meeting at least some of the companies here today during a short tour later.

I hope that you can all use the K trade fair to develop sustainable ideas and make new contacts.

I am delighted to now open the trade fair together with the hosts and wish you all lively discussions and interesting talks to advance circular plastics cycles.

Thank you very much and I wish you all every success.

19.10.2022 | Speech Climate | Düsseldorf

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