Mesocycles in Conserving Plastics, Paper by Yvonne Shashoua

Yvonne Shashoua, Senior Research Scientist at the National Museum of Denmark, indulged the audience with the progression of plastics conservation since the 1990s. Shashoua designated progressive shifts in thinking about plastics materials. The first stage in the 1990s focused on researching degradation to ease the initial panic of disintegrating plastics; the second phase took place in the 2000s looking at slowing down the deterioration process through influencing the environment and the third and current phase conservators are engaging active conservation.

Shashoua highlighted the false exchange of information provided from the plastics industry who claim plastics could last for a very long time. Analytical procedures prove various plastics degrade differently and this scenario is not just due to temperature and time but also to different manufacturing processes and, therefore different energies in the bulk material. Poly vinyl chloride has many complex mixtures so can show different kinds of degradation at different rates, whereas rubber has similar mixtures and can show similarities in deterioration.

I liked how Shashoua explained the new era of plastics as an ‘interesting life-time in conservation’. As if to say all the balls are still in the air and that’s where they will remain for some time in terms of preserving plastic objects. The discussion moved towards the progression of environmental procedures beginning with ventilation in the 1980s, isolation of plastic objects in the 1990s and from 1995 the use of commercial absorbents became popular. Recent research has revealed some absorbents are unselective in gases and can take up plasticiser and increase the risk of shrinkage to plastics materials. I think it is marvelous invested research into adhesives is being undertaken by Anna Lagana, a research scholar at the Getty Conservation Institute. Shashoua mentioned this aspect of plastics research as an important step to inform practice.

I very much look forward to the development of the future stages of plastics preservation, ‘sustainability’ is the next ball in the air according to Shashoua. I am loving the prospect of using hydrogels, sustainable adhesives and bacterial cellulose to treat and preserve the value in plastic collections. The unknown anticipation of the future lives of plastics in heritage collections is concerning but exciting and like the anticipation of whether those balls will ever fall to the ground, it is likely the mesocycles of conserving plastics will motor on!

Post by: Leanne Tonkin