Conservation of plastics in collections

There is a need for the care of plastics in collections. Museums should undertake a survey of plastics through their collections in order to avoid potentially serious problems in the future.

A survey in the UK shows that the most prevalent type of degradation for plastics, besides dust and dirt, is cracking or crazing, with discolouration and fading. The proportion of objects showing serious signs of deterioration was very small.

The problems are complex. Most of us have experienced the sudden failure of a plastics material through degradation. A pattern of behaviour often observed in plastics collections is where one article which has shown no sign of degradation rapidly deteriorates while its neighbours appear unchanged. This emphasises the need for regular inspection of plastics in collections, especially because the products of degradation often accelerate or initiate deterioration both in plastics and other materials in the vicinity.