Dezeen Magazine

Watch the video of the Dezeen Day discussion about designing for the circular economy

The discussion between Dutch designer Richard Hutten and Ellen MacArthur Foundation CEO Andrew Morlet at the inaugural Dezeen Day conference last year was one of the liveliest, with the two disagreeing over whether plastic can be part of a circular economy.

Morlet, who runs circular economy advocate the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, kicked off the talk by explaining the difference between a linear economy and a circular economy.

The former involves products with short-term use and extreme waste from low levels of recycling, while the latter focuses on reuse, repair and "continuous material flows".

"Many people equate the circular economy to be something like better recycling," said Morlet. "But actually, it's a systems view of how to keep materials used and in use for as much as possible at the highest value."

Circular economy talk at Dezeen Day 2019

"It's an economy that's based on three principles," Morlet explained. "Designing out waste and pollution right upfront. How do we think about keeping products and materials in use at the highest value for as long as possible? And how do we think about an economy that is, by design, regenerative and restorative in nature?"

Morlet talked about the global plastic trash crisis and described the work of the foundation, including its groundbreaking 2016 The New Plastics Economy report, which set out how plastic could be part of a circular economy.

Hutten, a designer based in Rotterdam, jumped into the conversation, describing the idea that plastic can be sustainable as "bullshit".

"Plastic is the cancer of the planet," he said. "No matter what people are saying that you can recycle it."

Circular economy talk at Dezeen Day 2019

Hutten advocated harnessing natural resources like wind and solar power, rather than burning oil to create products that create more waste and pollution.

"I'm from Holland," he said. "Many tourists come to Holland for windmills, where we're still building windmills. We're doing it already for centuries. That is free energy."

The Dutch designer gave a historical overview of the linear economy, starting with the Industrial Revolution, and contrasted it with an image of the earth.

"Nobody here can escape from life on Planet Earth," he explained. "Everything we have is on this planet. We have to cherish it. We just have to harvest it, and that is the way we can stop the linear economy."

Circular economy talk at Dezeen Day 2019

Hutten founded in his eponymous design studio in 1991 after graduating from Design Academy Eindhoven. Early success came with his projects for Droog Design, led by Renny Ramakers and Gijs Bakker.

At Dezeen Day, Hutten unveiled his seating for Schiphol Airport, which follows circular design principles. He described it as "the most exciting project" he's done in his life, although he admitted it looks "boring".

Hutten also criticised MoMA curator Paola Antonelli's keynote speech about Human Extinction at Dezeen Day and her Broken Nature exhibition at Milan's XXII Triennale.

"Paola Antonelli mentioned that we are facing a mass extinction," he said. "That is fucking true. I don't agree with that we have to design our extinction. I think we have to prevent it."

"I'm an optimist so we can still change the tide," he added. "The circular economy has no purpose if you're going to die anyway. So before that, we really have to end the linear economy".

Hutten is the art director of Dutch furniture brand Gispen, and is helping the business adopt the principles of the circular economy.

Morlet worked in medical research on HIV/AIDS then was a consultant strategy partner at McKinsey & Company before joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The circular economy talk was a chaired by Dezeen editor-at-large Amy Frearson and was one of a number of topics discussed at Dezeen Day. Other discussions focussed on post-plastic materials, design education and how to become an entrepreneur.

The inaugural one-day architecture and design conference was held at London's BFI Southbank on 30 October last year. Dezeen Day 2020 will take place at the same venue on 3 November. Sign up to the Dezeen Day newsletter for more information.