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A speech delivered by HRH The Prince of Wales at a Meeting of the International Sustainability Unit on "Keeping Plastics and Their Value in the Economy and Out of the Ocean"

Published on 31st January 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you, more than anything else, at the start, for being here today, once again to delve into the subject of plastics, and more specifically the very important matter of how we might take the necessary action to keep them in the economy and out of the ocean – let alone how to remove as much of them as possible from the World's Oceans.  I must say that even though the challenge at hand is extremely grave and urgent, I for one at least find some encouragement from the fact that the legacy of plastic in the environment is now very much on the global agenda and in the public consciousness.

Over the last few years, the awareness and science about the negative impacts of plastic waste in our Ocean have grown significantly.  Many of you, I know, shared my deep frustration that the world was seemingly just turning a blind eye to this mounting evidence.  Thankfully, the level of concern has now changed, not least because, if I may say so, of your efforts.  Notably, in this respect, Sky's Ocean Rescue Campaign over the last year has helped bring this issue into living rooms and classrooms around the world.  I note with great interest that Sky has taken its commitment further by adopting principles to reduce their plastic footprint and by establishing the Sky Ocean Ventures Fund to stimulate innovation.  Perhaps this is a model for others to join, follow or even emulate, we hope.
Now, a very welcome consequence of plastic's new-found prominence has been the stimulating of an ever-more intense discussion on what to do about it. Last year I was delighted to learn of the outcomes from a workshop that my International Sustainability Unit and Common Seas held on the important role of design and innovation in the plastic value chain.  I believe that many of you here today managed to attend that workshop and I am so pleased that, despite the complexity and scale of this issue, you are still here and committed to enabling the change that is required.  More than anything else perhaps, the workshop highlighted the need for innovation and coordination and there was, I think, a useful contribution to the former when a meeting held last May, hosted by my International Sustainability Unit, and Ellen MacArthur and Wendy Schmidt’s respective foundations, saw the launch of a $2 million dollar Plastics Innovation Prize.
Coordination is clearly absolutely vital too, as aside from technical issues relating to the recyclability and recovery of plastics, we need to ensure that the increasing number of initiatives being developed across different industries work together more effectively.  It seems to me to be essential that raw material providers, processers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, consumers and waste management bodies need to be working to the same plan, and will need support from policy-makers as well.
I am beginning to find some encouragement from the fact that a more integrated and joined-up approach is starting to unfold, with real leadership being shown by many individuals who are placing their intellectual, organizational, political and, indeed, financial capital into fostering integrated and collaborative efforts.  In a culture where the forces of competition so often swamp the imperative of cooperation, breaking out of the silos that slow down progress is even more of an achievement.

At the same time as looking at the issue from the simultaneous perspective of different parts of the economy and value chain, it is also vital to see the plastics challenge at different scales.  Rapid shifts away from 'business as usual' are notoriously difficult to instigate; the pressure for change needs to be built at global, national and local levels.  This is why I am delighted that today we will hear from three organizations which, in their own way, represent these three perspectives.  It seems to me that the responsible use and re-use of plastic is similar to so many other environmental issues in that they are discussed and negotiated at a global level, but require individual action and local commitments truly to enact change at the end of the day. This is why I am so pleased that we are going to hear from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, W.R.A.P., Common Seas and Business in the Communtiy, which I’ve been patron of for around 33 years, whose collective work not only encompasses these issues, but whose spirit of collaboration provides real hope.
In summary Ladies and Gentlemen, a good start has I think been made.  The matter of plastic debris in the environment, in particular the Ocean, is now on the agenda.  We do, however, need to keep it there, this is the key.  The nightmare result of eight million tonnes of plastic entering the Ocean every year is set to get worse rather than better.  We cannot, indeed must not, allow this situation to continue. This is why I am delighted that my International Sustainability Unit, Business in the Community and Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership have helped, alongside many of you here today, to stimulate debate and action to address this problem and I do fervently pray that you will all do your utmost to work together in the coming year to make real substantial progress.  It could not be more critical, if I may say so, that you succeed.
I wonder, though, how you consider that it might be possible to maintain momentum?  Perhaps it might be useful to think about convening a group such as this on an annual basis in order to assess progress and determine new action? Perhaps you can let us know whether you think that would be useful. I look forward, very much to hearing in more detail what you are planning.

Thank you.