Plastics are justifiably coming under fire in the midst of the climate debate, because, as we all know, they are difficult to biodegrade and recycle, and create what is called a trash vortex in the oceans. However, museum restorers are now expressing concern about their plastic collection items. Because some plastics may never perish, but most do decompose. And sometimes even within a short period of time.
Plastic is a comparatively new material in museum collections. The many different types of plastic call for a customised care approach. S.M.A.K. and Design Museum Gent, which together store some 4,000 plastic items, launched a project in 2018 as part of this approach. The first step involves establishing a standard terminology to identify and define materials, techniques and damage phenomena. During the second phase, the type of plastic is identified for each collection item and a condition report is prepared. This is done on the basis of source research, the 'plastic identification tool', recently developed in the Netherlands, or chemical analysis.
The museum staff and researchers involved will be gathering together during the week of 16 September for the purpose of sharing their expertise. A private workshop will be held to introduce them to the 'plastic identification tool', in which plastics are identified by means of an online questionnaire, material samples and making a careful analysis using four senses: sight, smell, touch and hearing. The collections of S.M.A.K., Design Museum Gent, ADAM-Brussels Design Museum, MoMu and FOMU will be covered. This project is the result of a collaboration between the Nederlandse Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency), the Koninklijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium (Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage) and the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences of TH Cologne (University of Applied Sciences).