transforming throwaway plastics, a research project. january to june 2009.
This research is supported by the Australia Council, australia's arts funding body.

the aim of this project is to investigate further ways in which i can use throwaway plastics in a crafts based practice. I am hoping to develop simple techniques from which potentially a new series of jewellery could be developed. The project, however, will focus on reseaching properties, sources, identification, etc of different common plastics, and experimenting in the workshop with these materials and this knowledge to develop a series of samples. these workshop activities are being documented and presented here.

PART 1a

This experiment tries to make a useful soft putty like substance from different plastics by dissolving them in a solvent.

This old hoover is my first plastic donor. the orange body is polystyrene.

another candidate, the disposable sushi tray. again polystyrene.

broken car tail light covers. shards of acrylic picked out of the gutter.

the plastic is cleaned and broken into managable sized pieces to fit a sealable container - in this case a film canister.

the pieces of plastic are placed in the container and solvent added. The solvent i am using is methylene chloride (WARNING! this substance is toxic) dispensed with a syringe. Once the solvent is added the lid is closed.

the hoover and brakelights soaking in the solvent

all three samples about 24 hours later. The solid plastic should have dissolved into a paste, or liquid, depending on the relative amounts of solvent and plastic. The orange one is quite thick and bubbles are trapped, a little more solvent and some stirring may help. Now, the big question - what to do with the goo??

PART 1b

the plastic syrup made in 1a is used to coat an object with a wire attached. the red brakelight acrylic was used along with this copper item - a sample from a previous project. the acrylic is prepared quite thick - about the same cosistency as honey.

just before dipping

just after dipping

the object was hung to dry, this is about 24 hours later. The coating is thin, and some bubbles have formed but is otherwise fairly uniform and glossy

the dipping was repeated several times, allowing drying time in between each coating of at least 24 hours.

PART 1c

the plastic syrup made in 1a is used to try to make a polymer filament. The orange hoover styrene is used, and prepared quite thick, almost as a paste. A syringe is used to force the plastic though a small hole made in a polyethylene plug fitted to the tip of the syringe.

the styrene is poured and scraped...

into the barrel of the syringe.

the plunger is fitted in place and pressure is applied. the plastic is slowly extruded.

if the styrene leaves the syringe tip without forming a droplet, it can carefully be forced out as a fine strand. even gentle pressure is required. It may also be neccessary to, at the start, collect the first droplet from the tip of the syringe with tweezers, drawing it away from the tip, to allow the strand to first form. It will then lengthen quite easily simply by continued pressure on the plunger of the syringe. The filament will dry within a minute or less. Unfortunately, once dry, the fibre is quite brittle.

PART 1d

casting the plastic in a "mould". For moulds i am using polypropylene soy milk carton lids. The three plastics prepared in 1a are being cast. After observing that the plastic/solvent mix, when drying rapidly, seems to get entrapped bubbles, i will try two sets of the plastics dried differently - one open to the air, and another set kept enclosed in an airtight container, and opened once a day to allow the solvent to evaporate from the plastic at a much slower rate. Hopefully this will avoid bubbles.

pouring into the moulds

one set of three is enclosed in an airtight container, while another set is left in the open air.

just after pouring.

the set left in the open air, one day after pouring.

the set left in the open air two days after pouring. The plastic has set very hard, but has develped many bubbles.

the set which was kept sealed, two days after pouring. The plastic is still to set and is quite tacky but without many bubbles.

about one week later, when both sets are hardened. the lower set is the "left open" set, the upper were kept sealed while drying, and only opened intermittently to allow the solvent to evaporate slowly.

PART 1e

impregnating paper with plastic. In this example the sushi tray styrene from part 1a is used, with something that no one will ever read - in this case a couple of pages from the intro to james joyce's a portrait of the artist as a young man. Cut into strips, which will be wound onto a metal rod.

the paper strips are layered and wound into a loose spiral

and immersed in the styrene liquid. the lid is closed.

the paper is allowed to soak, to ensure the styrene fully impregnates the paper and soaks between all the layers of paper. A sheet of polyethylene cut into strips is used for the following steps.

the paper is lifted out of the container...

and rolled into a compact cylinder around the metal rod. the polyethylene strips are then firmly wrapped around the outside to help hold everything in place.

the rod and paper are then placed in an airtight container, to prevent the styrene hardening too rapidly, which leads to the plastic bubbling (as seen in part 1d). the lid is opened periodically to slowly let off the evaporated solvents, untill fully hardened.

the paper with styrene fully hardened and the rod still in place.

the rod removed, and one end sawn and sanded smooth to reveal the layering of the paper.

PART 1f

this experiment tries to cast some of the plastic/solvent mix from 1a into a thin sheet. the plastic is poured onto a taut sheet of glad wrap, and another layer of glad wrap is stretched over the top. originally this was attempted without the top layer, which failed because the liquid hardened very quickly which prevented it from being spread out into a thin even layer.

pouring some of the dissolved blinker covers. The glad wrap is kept taut by stretching over a dinner plate.

placing the top layer of glad wrap.

gently easing the polymer out with the fingertips into a thin layer between the two layers of glad wrap.

just after easing it out into a thin layer.

these last steps were also repeated with the orange styrene from the vacuum cleaner.

the thin layer of styrene.

about a day later. the glad wrap was left in place until the acrylic and styrene layers were hard. then the glad wrap was carefully pulled away.