Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Plastic decay and the documentation project

I recently tweeted a couple of links, one from the Telegraph, the other from the New York Times about the problems of the long term conservation of plastic objects.

Basically plastic decays.

Plastics manufacturers try to choose formulations that will last for a reasonable time, but eventually plastic goes hard, cracks, breaks, or worse, turns into vinegary goo.

It's a problem manufacturers have been aware of for a long time, but understandably they have expectations as to the reasonable life of the product - it's no use designing a container that will last a hundred years when the contents will last five at most.

Plastic items, especially containers, were designed in the expectation that they would be thrown away once the contents were used up.

And it's not a new problem. Once, many years ago while out walking on the Lizard in Cornwall I happened across a steel board in a wire cage with a whole lot of different types of network cable attached - my guess is that some cabling company was carrying out a long term test on the resilience of various sorts of cable for outside use.

And plastic decay just happens - for example my old Subaru has a cracked aerial mount due to exposure to sun as well as sun damaged paint.

So, given all this, it would be natural to expect that some of the artifacts in Dow's would show signs of decay.

Well, so far none of the plastic items do. Obviously they've been handled gently, but none of them show signs of decay or leakage - unlike some of the flexible metal tubes from the same time, the mid fifties to the mid sixties.

I attribute this to most of the plastic items documented so far being stored in semi darkness and in reasonably dry and cool conditions, and not subject to much more than the normal diurnal changes.

However I'm still working on the dispensary at the back of the shop.

We've got a number of as yet undocumented items in the front of the shop, including some fairly funky 1950's plastic sunglasses. I've had a cursory look and they look ok, but they probably need a more detailed examination ...

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