Wednesday, 14 April 2021


In the post today I received a Pleco bag. It is unlike any other bag I have ever had.  It came beautifully packaged in a box that echoes the construction of the bag itself with the product name  in the form of a cut-out on the side of the box, temptingly revealing the colour of the bag inside

Image ref: The bags in their packaging.
Image credit: Pam Langdown

Everything about it is simple and understated and although the bag’s construction is not a new process by any means, its use of material is. Pleco bags are made in Japan by kna plus in co-operation with the Industrial Technology Centre of the Fukui prefecture. They are made from a woven, vertically pleated fabric which enables the bag to expand and contract to accommodate a range of objects. Providing the bag is emptied after use, the pleats resume their shape. They are produced in a range of sizes and colours and are surprisingly strong, given their light weight and delicate appearance. 

Image ref: Close-up detail.

Image credit: Pam Langdown

Pleco bags are available in two materials, recycled polyester or polylactic acid fibre, derived from corn, and which has a low environmental impact during production and decomposition. I opted for the PLA version. I am familiar with PLA when it is used in packaging and disposable cups and cutlery for example, but not in fibre form. Unusually for a re-usable bag the Pleco might have a relatively short life span. Quite how short remains to be seen and a lot depends on how much it is used and on the environment in which is it is kept. The website suggests that with heavy use it will last about a year, for occasional users between 2 and 4 years, and without use 5 to 6 years. This leaves MoDiP with a bit of a conundrum as we have acquired one for the museum collection too and aim to keep it in perpetuity. Of course, it will not be used and it will be kept in a stable environment, so perhaps we will have it for longer than the expected time. The makers suggest that it will begin to decompose over time with the structure breaking down but the MoDiP team will monitor and document its condition as part of the routine object condition checking programme. I can’t promise the same level of care and scrutiny will be applied to my own bag so it will be interesting to see how long I manage to keep it going for.

The pleating of the bag puts me in mind of the beautiful constructions of designer Mariano Fortuny who was known for vertically pleated silk gowns in the early 1900’s, and Japanese designer Issey Miyake whose current line Pleats Please features materials that are pleated after sewing the garments into shape. Pleating as a construction technique has been used by Miyake for decades and influences of other traditional crafts are to be found elsewhere in his designs. MoDiP has in its collection a Mendori lamp by Artemide, designed by Miyake, incorporating traditional origami folding techniques applied to the shade which is made from recycled PET bottles.

Image ref: AIBDC : 007064

Image credit: MoDiP

The concept of fabrics which temporarily alter their shape and size by incorporating traditional techniques is also beautifully demonstrated in the Petit Pli child’s outfit, also in MoDiP’s collection. Using origami principals of folding, the garments have the capacity to ‘grow’ with the child through several sizes, and here let me refer you to Katherine’s blog post of September last year in which she explains things more fully.

It is great to see traditional skills and techniques being incorporated into modern materials. I will aim to report back on how my Pleco bag stands up to normal use: fingers crossed that it lasts more than a year!

Pam Langdown
MoDiP Documentation Officer

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

“Made from bamboo sawdust waste…from a chopstick factory!”

The early semi-synthetic plastics utilised natural, plant-based materials that then had chemicals added to them in order to change or improve their specific properties. Development soon introduced the first completely synthetic plastics, man-made by reacting chemicals in the laboratory that were derived from fossil fuels. These types of plastics proliferated throughout the twentieth century but, with widespread concern over dwindling resources, in recent years there has been renewed interest in turning full-circle and substituting oil-based plastics with alternative, more sustainable plant-based feedstocks.

One such example is bamboo, a fast-growing grass that, due to its deep root systems, does not die when cut and as such is considered a renewable resource. Where plastics are concerned, it can be used in its virgin form alongside other materials, as a strengthening fibre within composites, or as a powder derived from waste off-cuts that are ground up and combined with biodegradable resins. 

This week’s guest blog post was written by MoDiP’s Digital Communications Officer, Julia Pulman, who sadly left AUB for pastures new just before Christmas. Here, she fondly remembers engaging with schools on the topic of bamboo plastics.

I have many happy memories of talking to hundreds of schoolchildren when we introduced the Eco-plastic Detectives project, supported by the Cultural Hub and aimed to encourage primary-age pupils to learn about sustainability in plastics. Part of the sessions involved handling environmentally friendly plastics objects and the beach toys were always a firm favourite. Made of bamboo sawdust waste from a chopstick factory (I can’t remember how many times I have said that phrase!), the shapes of these lovely objects were inspired by sea creatures and always reminded me just how clever designs using eco-plastics can be.

So, I am sure you can imagine how delighted I was to be given a Bamboo Bowl & Colander Set made from eco-friendly Biobu®, as a leaving gift from the MoDiP team when I said goodbye after two happy and enjoyable years at the museum. 

Image ref: My bamboo set from Ekobo.
Image credit: Julia Pulman

It has become my new favourite piece of kitchenalia and in a cheery red colour, it just brings a smile to my face every time I use it. The colander has plenty of well-apportioned drainage holes and four moulded feet to allow it to stand independently, whilst the bowl has a wide, curved spout which doubles up as a handle, to keep things steady when mixing. If the two pieces are used together, any water you have used to wash food in the colander drains through and is captured by the bowl. The spout of the handle then allows for easy re-use, eg. in watering plants.

Image ref: Washing lettuce - then watering my plant.

Image credit: Julia Pulman

I have used my set at Christmas, draining the veg, for mixing the pancake batter on Shrove Tuesday - the pouring spout was especially useful here – and for making Nigella’s delicious Olive Oil (and Maple Syrup) granola during lockdown…yum!

Image ref: The set in regular use.
Image credit: Julia Pulman

It is such a gorgeous product to handle; perfectly moulded with a smooth, rounded finish that is so pleasingly tactile. I think I might also be able to utilise it in my role with Knoll Gardens when talking about our bamboo plants. I can almost hear myself now… “Did you know you can use bamboo to make sustainable plastics?”

Image ref: 'Merlin’ bamboo along the Dragon walk.

Image credit: Knoll Gardens

Julia Pulman