All Things Plastic

In our recent photo essay (“Repacking the Future,” Summer 2012), we explored how containers in the future could be made from novel materials: mushroom-based styrofoam, biodegradable plastic from sewage, and more. A new exhibit, making its debut at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, takes a more in-depth look at the good and the bad that come along with plastics. It also addresses how plastics might be engineered to have less environmental impact in the future.

“Plastics Unwrapped” explores how material culture has changed dramatically since the 1950s, when we hardly used plastics at all.

Going through the exhibit, one can learn what life was like before plastic, what those numbers on the bottoms of plastic containers mean (down to the molecular scale), and which environmentally friendlier materials are coming down the pike. The exhibit will run at the Burke Museum in Seattle through May, at which point it will embark on a national tour starting in Portland, Oregon. For more information here.

Photo: Plastic polymer granules, courtesy of the Burke Museum