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Regional OPTOCE Project launched in Vietnam

Ambassador

Ambassador Grete Løchen's speech at the launch of the Regional OPTOCE Project on October the 4th 2019, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Dear representatives from the government, SINTEF, international organisations!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am happy, honoured and proud to be part of the Inception workshop of the Norwegian Government funded regional OPTOCE Project. OPTOCE means Ocean Plastic Turned into an Opportunity in Circular Economy. OPTOCE Project involves five countries in Asia (China, India, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam). The project aims to involve local energy-intensive industry, such as cement manufacturing to use non-recyclable plastic waste as coal substitute in their production. Plastic waste is fossil fuel and contains more energy than coal. Replacing parts of this coal consumption with plastic waste represents a win-win opportunity - preventing the plastic from ending up in the ocean and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and constitute a fundamental pillar in the circular economy.

In Vietnam the project owner of OPTOCE, SINTEF, the most reputed and well known Norwegian international research organisation, will work with the industrial private partners, the Vietnam Environment Administration under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, local DONREs, national and international organisations and academia to improve the public-private-partnerships to collect plastic wastes and to use the waste as a source of energy in cement plants with the above mentioned collateral benefits of preventing plastic ending up in the ocean and reduced CO2 emissions.

International action is key to addressing the most significant sources of plastics litter in the oceans that is insufficient waste management in developing countries and emerging economies, especially connected to major world river basins, dumpsites, landfills and industrial hotspots. It is estimated that more than 80% of ocean plastics comes from land-based sources with Asian countries among the top contributors to marine litter and micro plastics.

If we do not do anything immediately, by 2050, there will be more plastic wastes than fish in the ocean. The estimated stock of plastic waste in the ocean is over 12 billion tonnes - an astounding figure. Norway and Vietnam, as ocean nations, understand better than anyone else the importance of oceans to our economy. Our oceans are set as a high priority in the international cooperation agenda of the Norwegian Government. It is actively raising the issue in the UN and of other global conventions and platforms. Later in October, we will host the international Our Ocean Conference in Oslo. Further, Norway has launched a 1.6 billion NOK, approx. USD180 million, development aid program to combat marine litter globally.

Vietnam will be chair of 2020 ASEAN and it is very encouraging to see that the government has given high priority to address the marine litter and plastic waste management issues in a regional context.

Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But the rate of waste generation growth is expected to be even faster than GDP, with the changing lifestyles and rapid urbanisation.

Vietnam has already the world's 4th largest release of plastic waste to the ocean. Mekong River (and Delta) is amongst the top 20 polluting rivers in the World.

70% of Vietnam’s population live close to the 3400 km long coastline and low-lying deltas. Mismanaged plastic waste has a high potential to end up in rivers and the sea as marine litter/debris, and ultimately as micro plastics.

Today, more than 80% of Vietnam's household waste is landfilled, dumped or burnt in open fires; small quantities go to waste to energy (incineration) plants and some is recycled by the informal sector. Recycling is of course the preferred option but globally less than 10% of plastic waste can be recycled. There is an urgent need to also establish sustainable options for non-recyclable plastic waste.

This is why OPTOCE Project is important to show as an option for non-recyclable plastic waste.

Vietnam has the 5th largest cement industry in the world. The cement industry uses 15-20 million tonnes of coal every year.

Non-recyclable plastic waste has high energy content and can be utilized as replacement for coal in cement factories.

Today only one Cement manufacturer (INSEE- Siam City Cement) uses alternative fuels and raw materials (called Co-processing). No cement plant is currently utilising plastic wastes as alternative source of fuel.

In Norway, more than 70% of the fuel used in cement production is waste materials. In other countries in the region, for example, in China, using alternative fuels and raw materials has become one of the strategic and major waste management options.

Involving the existing cement industry in integrated waste management, may be an excellent opportunity for Vietnam, to drastically increase the treatment capacity of non-recyclable plastic waste and replace the use of coal as source of energy.

Urgent action is needed to increase the treatment capacity for non-recyclable plastic waste, and we believe the OPTOCE project can contribute to this.

OPTOCE aims to showcase how the use of waste as a source of energy can contribute to plastic waste treatment by studying different scenarios in five countries (Vietnam, India, China, Thailand and Myanmar) with largest release of marine debris in Asia and make a forum for knowledge sharing among the countries and in the region.

I wish that the private industries, governmental institutions, other relevant stakeholders and ongoing projects, working on similar issues, such as the UNDP project on domestic waste and plastic management in 5 coastal areas, also funded by Norway, and which you will hear more about later today, will coordinate their activities and work closely together. All these initiatives are very much linked to each other from the perspective of a circular economic thinking. Its success depends on that the private sector sees it as commercially viable.

I wish SINTEF and all other stakeholders all the best and success. This is not just good for Vietnam and the region but at the global level as well. Pollution of the oceans is one of the fastest growing environmental concerns of our time. Plastic litter travelling by ocean currents knows no borders.

Thank you very much for your attention and good luck!