Plastics “Unwrapped” at University of Washington’s Burke Museum

By: Courtney Arthur, Marine Debris Research Coordinator

Marine debris

Marine debris

If you are visiting Seattle before the end of May, consider a trip to the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. The museum recently unveiled a new exhibit called– “Plastics Unwrapped,” which takes a look at the cultural changes that have led to the increasing use of plastics in the last 50 years.

The exhibit begins with our “life before plastics,” which looks at how we met challenges before plastics became commonplace before progressing onto the “science of plastics,” where it explores the manufacturing and insights into the future of plastics engineering.

Next, is the intersection of “health and plastics” in medical advances. The medical field has used plastics for life-saving endeavors over the past 50 years; however, medical supplies are also a large source of plastic waste. The exhibit presents this information with an almost sterile viewpoint which forces viewers to absorb the information without bias.

The exhibit then takes a turn to “waste and plastics,” which occupies a large portion of the space. An entire wall is covered with thousands of discarded, single-use plastic shopping bags – this definitely packs an emotional punch.

A wall filled with hundreds of single-use plastic bags

A wall filled with hundreds of single-use plastic bags

This kid-friendly exhibit, also features a creative and interactive “studio lab,” where museum-goers can combine science and art to produce something imaginative for reusing plastics.

The last theme of the exhibit is “rethink plastics,” which guides viewers through options for reducing our personal consumables, reusing, recycling, and advocacy resources.

This is definitely food for thought… even for those of us who have done a lot of thinking about plastics. It is refreshing to see a new take on the issue of plastics and society!

To learn more about the exhibit, check out the Burke Museum online: http://www.burkemuseum.org/booknow/plastics_unwrapped

February 15, 2013
Marine Debris Blog

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