Storage Materials: Plastics

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This content is excerpted from Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage (2019), Elkin and Norris, eds.

Chapter 33: Plastic Storage Products

Scott Williams, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

A brief description of polymers, plastics and polymerization is given. Criteria for suitability of plastic storage products are discussed and related to the hazards that plastics have, initially before aging, and develop, after aging. The types and severity of hazards, including off-gassing, exudation, and loss of function, before and after natural aging in museum environments, are described and tabulated for specific plastics. The sensitivity of plastics to degradation agents in museum environments and how this degradation affects the hazard type and severity of plastic degradation then ultimately the suitability of the plastic for storage products are described. Several tables are presented, including tables of sensitivity of plastics to environmental degradation agents, and types and degree of severity of hazards. The risk that a selected plastic storage product will cause harm to objects depends on the types of hazard presented by the product and the probability that the object will suffer adverse effects from that hazard. With these tables and their knowledge of the types of objects being stored, collection managers can determine the risk of using specific plastic products to store the different objects in their collection.


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