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Opening speech by ISWA 2015 Chairman Mr. Philip Heylen

Your Royal Highness, Princess Astrid of Belgium,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Ideas are made of words and words are like raindrops on a window: some stick forever and some just fall immediately out of the picture. 

This is a congress, and every congress worth visiting, is about ideas.  The whole purpose of a congress is not to put mirrors in our windows. It’s about the need to see things differently.

Therefore this congress offers you three windows that might catch great ideas for you. 

The first window offers the world a view of the city of Antwerp.  I am indeed very proud to have brought the ISWA 2015 congress to Antwerp.

Antwerp is a great city full of history. It has always been a ‘city of culture’, a ‘city of knowledge’ and a ‘city of opportunity’.

This city has been home to artists like Jacob Jordaens and Anthony Van Dyck. And the most inspiring icon is no doubt Peter Paul Rubens.

He was not only a painter and architect but an entrepreneur, spy and diplomat as well.  He travelled all over Europe. His house on the Antwerp Wapper square was the Guggenheim of those days.

That history lives on. Still today, we have world-class artists:

Luc Tuymans, Jan Fabre, Dries Van Noten or Walter Van Beirendonck.

They are trendsetters, innovators, game changers... They are leading the world.

We built the first stock exchange in the world. We built the first skyscraper in Europe. Dr. Peter Piot discovered the HIV-virus. Professor Christine Van Broeckhoven is a world renowned expert in the struggle against Alzheimer. Dries Buytaert invented Drupal. And the Fashion Academy launched the Antwerp Six that shook the international fashion scene. Antwerp is the Diamond Capital of the World and Diamonds love Antwerp. The Port of Antwerp, with its second-largest petrochemical cluster in the world, is a crossroads of global supply chains.

Those artists, entrepreneurs and game changers, they are a symbol to me for what sustainability is all about:

Quality. Quality of what we produce. Quality of how we recycle. Quality of Life.

Here comes a second window.  This congress offers the city of Antwerp a view of the world. My city has a great tradition of hosting smart people from all over the world.  It was here in Antwerp where once Thomas More and Erasmus met in a house on the central town square. This is the perfect spot to talk, debate, argue and exchange views.  We want to learn from you. We want you to challenge us… 

We want to hear about your opinion, your approach, your plan in this context of the ISWA congress. We invite you to come and discuss with representatives from UNEP, the World Bank, OECD, the Clinton Foundation, the Singapore CERR… with Ministers and Mayors, with top level professionals, scholars and researchers. And we hope this event will help us to think further as a city, to innovate, to walk the talk and to make more out of our resources and waste in Flanders and Antwerp.

The third window is the one that outshines the two others.  It’s the window of opportunity. Therefore the ISWA 2015 congress comes at a particular moment.  A moment when many people are looking forward to the next step in the Climate Debate discussions.

Climate, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency have been headlining the environmental policy debate for many years now. The subsequent high-level global conferences have created a strong awareness amongst citizens and have instigated a sense of urgency to act and react.  At the same time, this next step has initiated the development of a range of clean technologies (solar panels, electric vehicles, wind turbines,..). 

If the world wants to be able to further develop these technologies, we will need to change the way in which we manage our raw materials and better mobilise the material stocks in our society. There is ample scope for increasing the recycling of metals, minerals, plastics,… We need to move from a linear production model of mine-produce-use-dispose to a circular system, in which we make the most of our resources and waste.  The waste sector can play a key role in this transition, as a key player in the collection, treatment, conversion and management of the materials that we all use and produce.

From this perspective, the wave of climate action is a mere predecessor of a new wave of sustainable raw materials management.

Three years ago something truly historical happened.  For the first time more than 50% of the population on our planet lived in a city.  The still growing population will increasingly live in megacities and megaregions. Additionally, on basis of the growing wealth in many parts of the world, a massive growth of consumption can be predicted. This growth will exert heavy pressure on the availability of space and on the price of raw materials.

The region of Flanders and the city of Antwerp have been leading examples when it comes to separate collection of municipal solid waste and waste sorting: we owe this to a well-developed legislative framework, coupled with enforcement and a high level of public awareness. Today, 72% of our waste in Antwerp and Flanders is being recycled. Together, we make most of our resources and waste.

It is at this crossroads that ISWA2015 positions itself. It has the ambition to become a catalyst of change. So, let’s think out of the material box!

This congress is about ambition. As Charles Landry – who invented the concept of the Creative City, once wrote: ‘Ambition is a significant word. It is a quality that generates energy, motivation and passion. It jump start processes of change as key people think, ‘it’s not OK to be only OK’.’

Can all the sustainable development and resource or waste management bodies come together to address the root cause of our industry, to generate a more constructive than destructive operating system? Where do we see niches of promising technologies, local initiatives, new business approaches, alternative policy measures that stimulate progress? How can global trade, shipment and treatment of waste complement the existing flows of raw materials and products? How do we deal with waste and materials in densely populated cities? What is the role of local authorities and world-wide organisations, NGOs, industry and research in the development of new tools and measures? What is the role of the consumer in this growing economy? And how can we come up with a world-wide balanced solution for the materials challenge?

The future is about the circular economy, about recycling, about smart solutions for complex problems, about sustainability and ecology. 

I dare to draw one conclusion ahead of this congress already. If the question is, are we technically able to solve every waste management problem confronting us? The answer is YES! I’ve seen the technology and the solutions, you have developed them.

But are we willing to do so? Do we have the ambition it takes? Are we ready to implement the EPR, the Extended Producer Responsibility, to a higher level? Are we willing to raise some serious international solidarity, or do we halt our efforts at our own borders?

If it boils down to the question of money, let me reassure you: when it comes to waste management and the circular economy, there is enough money to be made for everybody.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before we prevailed in establishing a separate collection of waste, everyone her in Flanders or elsewhere was screaming bloody murder. What rubbish, people said, nobody in the world is doing this, why should we separate our waste? Technologies for multiple use had not been developed yet. But in the very moment that for example large quantities of plastic arose and there was money paid for taking care of it, a remarkable technology push set in.

And nowadays people are arguing about who should have the right to collect the waste: private enterprises or local authorities? That’s delightful news! It shows that a measure for protecting the environment has turned into a business case.

Dear friends, this is our chance to do something for the stabilisation of the planet. Protecting the environment is not luxury, rather it is the basis of future prosperity.

The Canadian philosopher Marshal McLuhan once said that there are no passengers on spaceship earth, only crew.  This is about ownership.  This is about responsibility.  So, it’s now your choice:  Are we going to behave as passengers or as crew?

Ladies gentlemen, Welcome in Antwerp! Welcome to the ISWA 2015 Congress!

Philip Heylen



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