Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Bird Headphones

Unwanted electrical equipment is the world’s fastest growing type of waste, commonly referred to as e-waste. Of the 30 million tonnes being disposed of each year globally, 15,000 tonnes is attributed specifically to headphones. Technological advances result in many pairs reaching the end of their useful life after only a short period of time and if minor breakages occur they are often difficult or uneconomical to repair. As they are comprised of a number of different materials, headphones also present a complex recycling challenge.
With this in mind, Gerrard Street founders Dorus Galama and Tom Leenders have produced a modular headphone with parts that can be easily replaced and upgraded. Offered through a subscription service, the headphones are designed to be sent through the post for easy assembly at home. As individual parts get worn or broken, customers can return the obsolete components for replacement, free of charge, with 85% of this e-waste being either reused or recycled.
Bird headphones in modular form
Image credit:
This circular design model provides customers with a high quality, affordable headphone service (subscription starts from €7.5 each month) whilst allowing the company to maintain full control over production materials because it retains ownership of the product. It also provides the incentive for Gerrard Street to produce the most durable headphones it can in order to maximise income through extending use cycles. Furthermore, any headphones returned to the company are refurbished, with 1,500 pairs to date being saved from the bin.

You can see these headphones and other objects that have been designed with sustainability in mind in MoDiP’s pop-up exhibition: Design to minimise environmental impact, 1st floor, AUB Library.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Plastics Spotting in Portugal

In May, I visited Lisbon, Portugal for a conference and took the opportunity to do a little plastics spotting whilst I was there.
A nice surprise greeted me on the dressing table of my room, Kartell’s Bourgie lamp designed for Kartell by Ferrucio Lavian is such a statement piece.  MoDiP has a silver version in the collection, but I think the clear one is quite fun.

Also in my room was this classic table and chair set including the Tulip chair originally designed by Eero Saarien in the 1950s.

Outside, the hotel had a beautiful modern set of lounge seats in a smoking area in a terrace surrounded by high buildings.  The set, titled Stones, was designed by married couple Stefano Giovannoni and Elisa Gargan for the design company, Vondom.  The smooth, naturalistic shapes really complement the straight lines of the terrace.

The final hour of my visit, before I had to head off to the airport, was spent in the shade of the neighbouring hotel sitting at an anonymous ‘rattan’ bistro set whilst supping a well-deserved glass of delicious, cold, Portuguese beer.

The imitation rattan was so good, complete with texture along the shaft, that I had a to have a closer look to be sure it was plastic.

The attention to detail on all of these plastics designs were a delight to see.
Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Design to minimise environmental impact

Our latest pop-up exhibition is on display outside MoDiP on the 1st floor of the AUB Library and accompanies Revolution: environmentally conscious design in plastics. Whilst the latter concentrates on the sustainability of different plastics materials, we thought we would use the pop-up to explore some objects from the collections that have been designed sustainably. The three cases look at alternatives to single-use plastics, innovative packaging and the Bird Headphones and the objects will be on display until 16th September 2019.

Here are some of my favourites:

The Collective Great Dairy Yoghurt pot, AIBDC : 008198

Image credit:

Black plastic is made by mixing scrap plastic of many different colours and it is fully recyclable, but the optical machinery used to sort plastics in recycling plants have so far been unable to detect the carbon black pigment. As a result, this type of packaging often ends up in either landfill or is sent for incineration. By working with leading recycling expert Nextek and additive/masterbatch specialist Colour Tone, The Collective have been the first food and drink company to develop an alternative black dye that can be ‘seen’ by the near-infrared differentiation used in separating plastics. Their new lids have been in use since October 2018.

The DeLuxe cutlery set, AIBDC : 007005
Image credit: MoDiP

Inspired by traditional 19th century Italian baroque silverware, the DeLuxe cutlery set was designed by Fabio Bortalani and Donata Paruccini for Pandora Design of Italy in 2000. Made from an acrylic/polystyrene composite, the four piece set is 100% recyclable but, as it is more robust than typical ‘cheap’ disposable cutlery and is dishwasher proof, reuse is encouraged. They are a good example to demonstrate that plastics materials should be valued not discarded.

The Sustain-It bottle, AIBDC : 008221

The Sustain-It bottle is part of an innovative new system being trialled in the UK between Coca-Cola European Partners, Validfill and the University of Reading. The refillable Tritan™ Copolyester bottle contains a microchip that interacts with dispensing technology within a new range of smart Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. Consumers pre-pay for drinks through a mobile app and then scan a code at the machine to access over 100 drinks. In addition to reducing plastic bottle consumption, the scheme generates lower carbon emissions as the drink mixtures can be sent in concentrated form by courier as and when needed.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Family Activities

We are busy getting ready for the summer here at MoDiP and during August we are offering some fantastic family activities, themed around our current exhibition Revolution.  
Activities will allow families to learn about sustainability in plastics, recycling and upcycling. 

Illustration by Martin Brown

MoDiP will welcome Eco-plastic Detectives who will engage in an
‘I spy Eco-plastic’ activity, requiring children to put on their detective hats. They will explore and find certain objects within the display cases of the exhibition ‘Revolution’. This activity is a drop-in session taking place throughout August with a self-led worksheet. If you are interested in coming along, please check out our opening times on our website before making your journey. 

There will also be an activity to investigate plastic packaging seeing families members become an Eco-plastic Investigator. Using a magnifying glass children will explore objects to find the recycling triangle. They will write down the number and letters they see in or near the recycling triangle. Then with the help of an Identification Code List they can find out what the number and letters mean. This session requires booking a ticket via Eventbrite. There are various sessions throughout August.

We also have an activity that will allow families to become Eco-plastic Makers. Why not come along and put into practice your skills of upcycling by making a woven bag from used plastic bags. There are a limited number of places for this activity so please ensure you book a ticket, via Eventbrite  

Please note that all children must be accompanied by a responsible adult at all times.
If you require more information about any of the family activities above please call 01202 363727 or e-mail

We look forward to seeing detectives, investigators and makers coming to visit us soon!

Sarah Jane Stevens AMA, Museum Engagement Officer

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Plasticidade – A history of plastics in Portugal

As part of the Plastics Heritage Congress which I attended at the end of May, I got to visit the Museum de Leiria - a beautiful museum in the old building of the Convento de Santo Agostinho.  Plasticidade is a play on the word plasticity eg. Plasti-City to show the link the city of Leiria has with the plastics industry.

The exhibition resulted from a partnership between the Municipality of Leiria and the research project ‘The Triumph of Bakelite – Contributions for a History of Plastics in Portugal’, developed at the Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology – Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon and funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology – FCT.
The exhibition looked at the production of the plastics as well as the objects it has become.  One of the objects on display that really piqued my interest, was a hand-operated injection moulding machine from 1947.

After the display about the production of plastics objects, the exhibition was organised by decade, starting with the 1930s, and displayed the types of objects that were typical from each era.

I was particularly intrigued by the bread bin on the left of the image below from the 1950s / 1960s, as it was very reminiscent of a container we have in the MoDiP collection.

Despite being a celebration of plastics and the resultant objects, the exhibition did not shy away from the problems that plastics can cause to the environment when they are not disposed of correctly.  The use of plastic particles in a container of sand was very clever, as was the map showing the currents of the seas.

The exhibition came to a close with a thought about the future use of plastics and an image of the Jiggs pBone from the MoDiP collection.

It is great to see how other museums are engaging with plastics.  It was particularly nice to see a celebration of the material family, especially as it is in such a fabulous location.
A fellow delegate did remark that this exhibition was the second they had visited in an ex nunnery / convent building in a matter of weeks – the other being the Bow Arts Raw Materials exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery.
Both exhibitions are definitely worth a visit.
Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Plastics Heritage Congress 2019

At the end of May the Plastics Heritage Congress, a three-day international conference, was held at the Museu Nacionale dos Coches, Lisbon, Portugal.  The theme of the conference was History, Limits and Possibilities and attracted delegates from all over the world, including the USA, Australia, Africa, and all over Europe.

The keynote lecture by Jeffrey Meikle was particularly interesting to me as his book American Plastic: A Cultural History plays a vital role in my PhD research.  
All of the three days were split into two streams and it was difficult to choose between which talks to attend because they all sounded fascinating.
On the Wednesday, I chaired a session entitled Museums, Collections and Archives and introduced papers presented by Cancy Chu, University of Melbourne, on the Impact of plastics on archives; VitÄ›zslav Knotek, University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, on the Identification and degradation of cinematographic films with magnetic audio track; and Masahiko Tsukada, Tokyo University of the Arts, on the Material analysis of animation cels produced in early 1990s before the digital era.  All of which looked at the analysis of the materials used and considered how they might be stored.
On the Thursday, the papers were focused on conservation and cleaning techniques and concluded with a coach trip to a museum in Leiria in central Portugal to view an exhibition about plastics.  I will write another blog post all about the exhibition and the objects included. 
On the last day, I presented a paper entitled Making Connections: the development of relationships between museum visitors and objects of historic polymeric materials which was received favourably.  In addition, alongside Katherine Curran, Suzan de Groot, Ruth Keller, Maria Joao Melo, and Geoffrey Mitchell, academics from across Europe, I judged the poster entries and awarded the prizes. 
One of the speakers on the Friday was Mariele Neudecker, talking about her MoDiP project Plastic Vanitas.

It was nice to see the image below on one of Mariele’s slides showing my colleagues, Pam Langdown and Katherine Pell, alongside two students who worked with Mariele on her project.  The student on the left side of the image, Leo Gauvain, sadly lost his life when he returned to Bangkok after completing his degree in photography at the AUB.  The team at MoDiP were very sorry to hear about this tragedy. 

Through-out the three days, I learnt a lot about all kinds of plastics materials, from Gutta Percha, a material derived from tree sap, to Carbolite, a Russian version of the more commonly known Bakelite, and met some great people working on some amazing projects.
Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Spice box

Newly acquired by MoDiP as part of the Plastics Historical Collection, is this lovely spice box or masala dabba. 

A masala dabba is used for the short-term storage of the most commonly used spices in Indian cuisine. These containers enable the cook to have their favourite spices to hand without having to open jars, and enables easy and quick blending of the chosen spices. This example is made from compression moulded urea formaldehyde and has a registered design number on the base suggesting that it dates from circa 1949. These spice pots are often made from metal or wood, but this example is from an era when new uses were sought for plastics materials. It is made in a familiar green colour, typical of its time, and hand decorated with a floral design.

If you would like to see this particular object, other objects from the Plastics Historical Society collection or indeed any object in the MoDiP collection not currently on display, please contact a member of the MoDiP team to arrange a visit.

Pam Langdown

Documentation officer