Plastics in Collections: Does It Last Forever?

author: Thea van Oosten
published: April 20, 2017,   recorded: March 2017,   views: 611

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Plastics is so intertwined with our daily life that a life without this material is hard to imagine. The majority of our present-day activities wouldn’t even be feasible without plastics: computers, telecommunications, packaging, domestic appliances and contemporary art and design. This is the ‘Plastic Century.’

Museum collections nowadays contain increasing amounts of plastic objects. Since the production of the first plastics at the beginning of the twentieth century, a wide variety of plastics have been brought on the market.

The quality of plastics with regard to durability is not what museums would wish for. Plastics degrades, despite the fact that some believe it to be unbreakable and imperishable. How should we handle plastic objects in collections? Can we identify plastics or different types of plastics? Many are not yet familiar with this relatively young material. For conservators treatments of the well-known materials such as wood, paper, textile, metal and ceramics are daily practice, however with plastics knowledge of the behaviour of the material is lacking.

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