Despite media reports telling us that plastics last forever, from a museum and conservation perspective, they are particularly sensitive materials that are vulnerable to slight fluctuations in environmental conditions.
Although plastics, especially single-use ones, have gained a
worsening reputation in recent years due to the impact of their
inappropriate disposal on the environment, they have certainly
influenced our way of life since their mass use in production
began. It is the mission of the Museum of Design in
Plastics (MoDiP), part of Arts University
Bournemouth, to increase the understanding and
appreciation of the use and significance of plastics in
design through their collections, exhibitions and outreach
programmes. Objects in the MoDiP collection include furniture,
sports equipment, medical devices, materials for building and
construction, everyday items (e.g. consumer technology, toys and
clothes), as well as materials made from sustainable resources and
those designed to protect the environment.
It is MoDiP's responsibility to monitor the conditions
which their plastics collections experience - not only to
preserve and maintain the conditions of the objects, but also as
part of the Museum Accreditation scheme. Looking
after plastics in collections can be a challenge for many museums,
as the term 'plastics' actually refers to many different
types of material, each of which has its own specific
environmental requirements for long-term preservation. Monitoring
conditions in all areas where collections are held is therefore
As part of their essential environmental monitoring, MoDiP uses
Tinytag Ultra 2 TGU-4500 data loggers for
temperature and relative humidity monitoring, one located in
the main objects store, one in the large objects store and the
other in a display case which is just outside the Museum in the
University's library. Unsuitable levels of temperature and relative
humidity can cause physical and chemical
degradation in plastics, so monitoring these parameters is
an integral part of caring for their collections.
Continuous environmental monitoring using the Tinytags allowed
MoDiP to identify that the display case in the University's library
was experiencing unstable conditions as there were
no specific environmental controls in place in this area. With the
data from the logger, they were able to see that
temperatures would rise during the day while the library
was in use by students, and then drop rapidly at night
when the University was closed. MoDiP was able to respond to this
data by limiting the amount of time that objects are out on display
in this area.
Katherine Pell, Collections Officer at MoDiP,
is pleased with the results seen from the Tinytags.
"The Tinytags are extremely easy to use,"
says Katherine. "They are small and portable so that we
can easily move them around to record in different locations as
needed. They are unobtrusive so we can put them into display cases
without detracting from the exhibits. The software is easy
to read and interpret, particularly in helping to build a picture
of average conditions over the year."
Environmental data gathered by the Tinytags is also being used
as part of a new installation at MoDiP. A Fine Arts tutor at Arts
University Bournemouth has taken readings from the Museum's stores
and is using them to inform the composition of a musical piece
enabling visitors to 'hear' what is happening in the sensitive