Plastic Identification Tool

The Plastic Identification Tool is developed within ‘Project Plastics’ and made possible by

the project was supported financially by

Project Plastics is a continuation of the much-appreciated work by Thea van Oosten when she was working at the RCE. The knowledge generated in this tool is due to the many plastic experts and projects in the field. Including the work from Frederike Waentig, Yvonne Shashoua, Brenda Kenghan and MoDiP.
>> see project group & project staff



Identifying plastics in museum objects, or at least determine the category to which they belong, is possible with the Plastic Identification Tool (PIT). The best results are obtained in combination with the Plastic workshop where the tool is explained and practiced. The PIT is accompanied by the PIT-kit which is specially designed for this tool.


Early 20st century can be seen as the start of the plastic era. Although the first natural plastic (rubber) was discovered much earlier, the development of (semi)-synthetic plastics really caught on from the 1880s onwards. After the introduction of cellulose nitrate developments went fast. Bakelite, phenol formaldehyde resin with sawdust, was the first synthetic plastic to be manufactured around 1910. It was soon followed by polystyrene, polyvinylchloride and polyethylene, which were produced on a large scale for the manufacture of household items and packaging. Artists also began to explore the materials. Plastics were versatile and seemed indestructible.

Nowadays museum collections contain plastics that show problems in storage and on display and hence need special care. Problems such as discolouration, efflorescence, tackiness and crumbling. To anticipate problems and preserve plastic containing objects under appropriate conditions, identification of the plastics is crucial.

There is a large variety of plastics, each with their own properties. The Plastic Identification Tool assists collection carers and conservators with the identification of most of the plastics in their collections, It does not require specialist knowledge nor analytical equipment. The PIT supports developing collection care strategies, monitoring objects and finding the appropriate conservation measures..


The Plastic Identification Tool has three ways to identify plastics:
- through the list with questions with accompanying PIT-kit
- through the descriptions on the plastics information pages
- through the ten exemplary artworks containing different plastics


The Plastic Identification Toolkit (PIT-KIT) is a set of boxes with instruments and reference samples that are needed to answer some of the questions from the tool. The Toolkit belongs to the Plastic Identification Workshop but can be ordered separately. Click here to order a Toolkit.


The two-day in-company workshop, delivered by Carien van Aubel and Olivia van Rooijen, provides an overview of the different plastics and their properties and teaches participant how to use the Toolkit by identifying plastics in objects from their own collection. In addition to the workshop a number of survey days can be organised during which a larger number of objects from the collection are identified for registration, documentation and conservation purposes. During these days it is also possible to perform supplementary instrumental analysis (FTIR). Click here to contact Carien and Olivia about the workshop.