Wednesday, 26 April 2023

Reuse: Local Recycling

The collection of household plastics for recycling through the UK’s Local Authority bin collection service began exactly twenty years ago with the introduction of the 2003 Household Waste Recycling Act. Looking back, it now seems crazy that up until that point, we had all been throwing our plastics packaging into normal waste every week, destined for incineration or landfill!

Friends of the Earth had been campaigning since 2000 for every
household in the UK to have a doorstop recycling service.
Image credit:

Since then, the variety of materials being accepted for recycling has continued to grow, as have the volumes being collected, but recent figures suggest that less than half of the plastics we discard are actually being recycled. To counter this, an increasing number of small businesses have found ways to capitalise on the collection of this waste from within their communities to create new products. These alternative, local, targeted recycling initiatives help to lower the waste’s overall carbon footprint and often utilise other plastics materials not currently being collected by councils.
Some examples from within MoDiP’s collection include:
The Relic plant pot, injection moulded in recycled polypropylene sourced from bottle tops, hangers and broken Tupperware. The swirls and layers within each pot are unique.

AIBDC : 008622
Image credit: MoDiP

The Bee Saviour Behaviour card, injection moulded in recycled polypropylene recovered from used DVD cases, collected by the maker from local charity shops. 

AIBDC : 009495
Image credit: MoDiP

Slot-together style building bricks, made of recycled polypropylene (the pink and black examples) and high-density polyethylene (the green and blue examples). The bricks are being designed so that they can be produced in high volumes by small-scale factories with the intention of addressing problems of plastics waste in developing countries and a lack of suitable, affordable housing in those communities.

AIBDC : 008794 and 008795
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The Gomi portable charger, made from compression moulded low-density polyethylene flexible plastic waste such as plastic bags and bubble wrap. Currently non-recyclable these are sourced from wholesalers, businesses and households in Brighton.

AIBDC : 008531
Image credit: Katherine Pell

All of these lovely objects can be viewed in the museum and will be on display until
8th September 2023.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

60 years old, the Polyside Chair, Robin Day, 1963.

In the late 1950s, furniture manufacturer Hille approached Robin Day with the idea of producing a one-piece chair shell to add to their range. Up to that point, there were a limited number of materials that could achieve such a design, such as pressed metal, structural ply or glass-reinforced plastic, the latter very successfully utilised by Charles and Ray Eames. However, the invention of polypropylene in 1954 changed everything.

Sketches for the Polypropylene chair.
Image credit: House and Garden, 1982, p. 129

Commercially available from 1957, this new plastic material was lightweight, durable, had high flex and fatigue resistance and could easily be injection moulded. Day realised its potential for a low-cost, mass-produced chair that could be mounted on a variety of bases. Hille gave him the brief to create a comfortable seat using a minimum amount of material in order to enable a quick moulding cycle.

Product development.
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Hille invested £6000 in moulding tools (equivalent today to just over £175,000), with product development taking three years as prototypes had to be created by hand and testing only being possible once the chair had been made. The first design resulted in the back being too thin and overly flexible, so Day added rolled edges and deep curves for additional strength.

Robin Day with his Polyside Chair on three different bases.
Image credit:

With the design finalised, Hille launched the chair in 1963 through a marketing campaign that sent out 600 samples to architects, designers, furniture buyers and journalists, accompanied by a survey form to gather feedback. They realised that the structural changes that had been necessary to improve the seat’s rigidity had compromised on its overall comfort, so the design was altered, becoming slightly wider with the edges further enhanced.

35,000 Polyside chairs used as stadium
seatingfor the Mexican Olympics in 1968.
Image credit:

The Mark II was released the following year and became an immediate success as orders flooded in. 4000 chairs were being moulded every week, each shell taking only 1.5 minutes to produce, initially mounted on a stacking frame. Different bases and colours followed along with variations including a tub armchair in 1967, the popular educational E Series Chair in 1971 (refer image below) and the indoor/outdoor Polo chair in 1972. 

In a 1999 interview, Day said:
"In my long years of designing, the thing that has always interested me is the social context of design and designing things that are good quality that most people can afford. In those days, and to some extent still today, furniture in the high-street shops was not only not cheap, but it was also boring, conventional, semi-period and backward-looking. It was always my mission to mass-produce low-cost seating, because I do think that clarity and what we call 'good design' is a social force that can enhance people's environments.”
(Abrahams, 1999).

The polypropylene chair has been in constant production over the past sixty years with millions being sold to date and licensees in over 30 countries. It was the first mass-produced, injection-moulded, polypropylene chair, and has been widely copied.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


Abrahams, C. (1999). The people’s chair. The Guardian. 13 March (online). Available from (Accessed 24 March 2023).

House and Garden. (1982). The most ubiquitous chair in modern Britain. House and Garden. September. P.128-129.

Wednesday, 12 April 2023

Reuse: Not Single Use

Since the introduction of the first disposable hot drinks cups by American company DART in the mid 20th century, the consumer has become used to the concept of single-use.

Dart Manufacturing Company was established in 1937 in Mason, Michigan, USA making plastic key cases, steel tape measures and ID tags for the armed services. In the late 1950s they began experimenting with expanded polystyrene which led to the development of the first insulated foam cups. In 1963 the company changed its name to Dart Container Corporation and initially focused solely on producing foam cups subsequently adding new products and materials. Production expanded throughout the USA over the following decades and in its first 50 years, Dart grew to become a global corporation with a range of more than 600 products for the food services, retail and food packaging industries.  Of course, Dart are not the only company manufacturing such containers. A 2022 report by FMI (Future Market Insights) estimated that by the end of that year the global takeaway container market was expected to reach a valuation of US$ 21.3 Billion, and continue to rise, with plastic packaging to account for the major portion.  

However, what we once considered a safe, effective, convenient and cost-effective method of serving and delivering fast food is now being thought of as problematic, as we begin to realise the devastating effects of the careless disposal of this type of packaging can have on the environment, and grapple with the associated difficulties and costs of collecting and recycling or disposing of it.

Responding to public demand for change there are now, increasingly, a number of closed-loop schemes whereby containers that were once expendable, are returned for cleaning and reuse. Designed to be robust and long lasting, some of these containers are expected to be re-used up to 1000 times and then at the end of their useful life they are recycled. These closed-loop systems work especially well in environments such as works canteens and universities or takeaway restaurants.  A small deposit or token encourages the return of the food container and its subsequent reuse helps to reduce waste and decreases the need for additional plastics manufacturing.

For example, fast food restaurant, Burger King piloted a range of reusable and returnable packaging in conjunction with Loop, a global re-use platform, in a small number of their restaurants with the idea of rolling out the packaging nationwide if it proved to be successful. Customers chose to take part in the scheme by paying a small deposit which was refunded on the return of the cups or containers, which were then professionally cleaned and sanitised before being returned to circulation in-store.  This reusable packaging forms part of the retailers plan to reduce its carbon emissions and to support its pledge to stop using single-use plastics entirely by 2025. (

Image credit :

The idea of using food containers multiple times to deliver pre-prepared food is becoming more popular but it is not an altogether unfamiliar concept. The introduction of pasteurization in 1894 gave milk a longer shelf-life and the delivery of the daily pint in pre-filled bottles became widespread.  Empty milk bottles were rinsed and left ready for collection by the dairy, who cleaned, sterilized and refilled them, ready for the next delivery.  Over time, the prevalence of the domestic refrigerator, enabling households to store milk for longer periods, and the deregulation of the British milk industry which allowed supermarkets to sell milk, saw the steady decline of the morning milk delivery. The change to cartons and then plastic bottles moved the consumer further away from the idea of re-using the same container multiple times. 

Image credit :

However, there is a return to this concept and examples shown in the ‘Not single use’ case in MoDiP’s Reuse exhibition showcases reusable containers from the MoDiP collection, including items from GET Enterprise’s Eco-to-go range. They are made from recyclable, BPA-free, colourless polypropylene that is safe for reheating in a microwave and suitable for washing in commercial dishwashers. The durable, stain resistant, long- lasting containers are capable of being reused up to 1000 times and designed for circular exchange or closed loop systems, in which take-away food containers are returned for cleaning and reuse thus avoiding landfill.

Eco to go soup pot.
Image credit:

Eco to go salad box.
Image credit:

Reuse runs from 17 March 2023 to 8 September 2023

Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer

Wednesday, 5 April 2023

Curatorial talks

As a museum curator of a small museum, I find that my work each week can be varied and extremely interesting.  This last week has been full of working out budgets for the coming year, thinking about new acquisitions, updating object records, and thinking about our next exhibition.  I have also been doing lots of talking. 

Firstly, I was invited to the Museum of Richmond to talk to volunteers, staff and trustees from the museum and a group of arts students from Richmond College.  The Museum of Richmond are working towards putting together an exhibition entitled ‘Artificial Silk: From Kew to the World’ which will open to the public in late June. I was joined by Calvin Wooding, a fibre specialist, who spoke about the production of the material, whilst I put the invention in the wider context of plastics development and culture.  It was a great day with a wide-ranging audience, the students will be responding to the subject by creating art works that will feature in the exhibition.  I am really looking forward to going back and seeing the end results.

My second public presentation was part of the AUB Open Lecture series.  These lectures are hosted at AUB by the Innovation team and are aimed at external and internal audiences.  My lecture was entitled Making connections: objects, visitors, curators.  Here I drew on topics and themes that were part of my PhD thesis and explored the ideas of:

  • What makes a museum?
  • Value and meaning
  • Relational materiality and the relational museum
  • The role of the curator

Making connections. Image credit Lucy Devall

Throughout the presentation I used personal experiences to illustrate academic thinking around collecting and the function of museums, with particular attention given to the difference between the act of private collecting and that of the public museum.  I talked about how we assign value to objects, and how this effects the way we relate to them, as well as the kinds of energies that are generated by object encounters.

If you would like to find out more about future AUB Open lectures sign up to the AUB Engage mailing list where you can be kept up to date with all the cultural activity from the museum and our engagement colleagues.

Louise Dennis

Curator of MoDiP