UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Dr Katherine Curran helps to establish European network on plastics heritage

11 April 2018

Earlier this year, UCL ISH lecturer Dr Katherine Curran attended a meeting in Brussels to establish a European network on ‘Plastics Heritage’.


The UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage is one of the founding members of the Plastics Heritage European Association (PHEA).  At a meeting in the Brussels Design Museum (ADAM) earlier this year, Dr Katherine Curran from UCL ISH joined 17 other representatives from universities, museums and national societies around Europe to establish a European network on ‘Plastics Heritage’, the PHEA.

PHEA will focus on activities and research relating to historic polymeric materials (HIPOMs), including synthetic, semi-synthetic and natural materials. 

Since their emergence, polymeric materials and their precursors have generated quite different feelings and opinions.  On the one hand, some of the most important technical developments of the modern age would have been impossible without them.  On the other hand, they are often perceived as cheap and sometimes ‘fake’ materials, and their contribution to serious environmental problems such as plastic waste in the oceans are well-known.

After at least 150 years, many HIPOM artefacts are found in various collections of technical, design, art and architecture museums, urgently requiring research on the contextual knowledge of their material, technology and cultural history, scientific investigations on their material properties, analytical characterisation and knowledge of their preventive and practical conservation.

The role of PHEA in the future will be to develop these activities, to communicate these issues and to raise awareness not only of the environmental problems related to plastics but also of the cultural heritage of ‘historic polymeric materials’ to the broader public.