Designers disagreed about whether we can live without plastic at the inaugural Dezeen Day conference, with architect Arthur Mamou-Mani saying "we still need" the material and designer Nienke Hoogvliet arguing that "we shouldn't produce any more".
Designer Natsai Audrey Chieza, the third designer on the post-plastic materials panel, said human society is not yet ready to phase out fossil-fuel plastics.
"I don't know that we are there yet," she said, but added: "I think that there are some really promising materials."
"Our behaviour" with plastic is the problem
The panellists debated whether there was a role for plastic in future, and what new materials could replace it.
"I think we still need normal plastic," Mamou-Mani explained. "The problem is not really the material, it's our behaviour, it's our idea that we can just take a plastic bag and throw it away. The plastic bag was actually invented with the idea of reuse-ability."
But Dutch designer Hoogvliet argued that the production of all plastic derived from fossil fuels should be stopped.
"We're smart enough to create new alternatives when the urgency is there," she said. "So that's why I think no more plastics and then we can figure it out. But as long as the urgency isn't there we will just keep using them."
"A lot of people don't know that actually, seaweed and algae produce more oxygen than trees," Hoogvliet continued. "So I think it's a very interesting source for new materials including bioplastics."
"We need to divest from fossil fuels"
"It's a paradox because industrial plastics are extremely important," she said. "They enable us to have the kind of infrastructure that we have in the modern world. The problem is that we need to divest from fossil fuels."
Chieza questioned how designers can justify switching to electric cars while continuing to use petroleum-based plastic as a material.
"The fossil-fuel industry actually makes more money" from selling plastic made from fossil fuels than from selling petroleum, she claimed.
The inaugural Dezeen Day took place at BFI Southbank in central London on 30 October. The conference also featured a keynote lecture from MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, and a controversial panel discussion on architecture education featuring Patrik Schumacher and Harriet Harriss.
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