Authors: Mariana Escamilla Martínez, Bianca Gonçalves, and Estelle De Bruyn
The SiC’s Research Group has been looking forward to sharing the results of SiC's first survey called “Materials in Conservation”.
The survey reached conservators around the world and contained seven questions aimed at identifying conservators’ general opinions regarding recycling, disposal and alternative materials, as well as informative preferences and topics.
The online survey was launched in March 2017 and remains open to allow yearly information updating.
SiC has to date received responses from 152 conservators of various specialisations from 25 different countries. Most of the conservators responding the survey come from mainly English speaking countries - The United States, as well as the United Kingdom. Secondly, a high amount of respondents came from European countries. This information is relevant to localise the interested public, up until now, and give more accurate information regarding litter disposal regulations and recycling options for materials used in conservation.
In general, conservators from these countries were aware of their local regulations and recycling possibilities regarding ordinary trash. Many respondents declared to know about solvent disposal and recycling regulations in their localities. Nevertheless, information regarding disposal or recycling of contaminated materials used in conservation is still unknown. From the conservators in the survey, most of them were specialized in the conservation and restoration of paintings - focusing on their responses, but also including those from conservators specialized in the conservation of stone, metals and glass/ceramics, the primary concern was the use and disposal of toxic solvents, gel residues, as well as cotton swabs.
Materials used the most by conservators responding to this survey, were adhesives (mentioned in 148 answers). From these respondents, epoxy resin was the material specified the most, as an adhesive to which people want an alternative.
Moreover, in general, solvents were mentioned in 43 of the survey responses (used for cleaning and as a volatile component for the dissolution of polymers) as materials to which alternatives are needed. At this moment, the solvents used the most by our respondents were acetone (36), as well as alcohols (various: Ethanol, Methanol, 2-Propanol, among others – 34 mentions). Xylene, Toluene and aromatic solvents, were explicitly mentioned as toxic solvents of frequent use, to which our respondents would like to have an alternative.
Most of the respondents expressed concerns regarding the use of solvents; many admitted using toxic ones if necessary. They also showed their preference for water-based or non-toxic materials. However, the general feeling states that more research needed to confirm these work as safe and efficient replacements compared to other more commonly used toxic or polluting substances.
Another significant amount of conservators of various specialisations worry about the disposal and recycling of materials used for packaging and handling objects (more specifically, plastics mentioned in 27% of responses). Regarding such materials, paper (such as Japanese Tissue), Tyvek and Polyester materials were explicitly mentioned. Nonetheless, nitrile gloves and cotton buds (here referring to the plastic sticks) were the focus of concern.
Conservators responding to this survey are mostly interested in receiving information regarding the recycling of materials, as well as the use and research of sustainable alternatives. Many admitted to often think about the environmental footprint of our profession and to use gels and other greener alternatives if their use is safe for the object.
In conclusion, results show conservators are aware of the environmental impact of their work and are worried about the use of high amounts of non-recyclable and toxic materials as well as the lack of research or knowledge for sustainable alternatives. Nonetheless, a relevant number of respondents (23) specifically stated no interest in sustainable alternatives – the need for awareness among the conservation-restoration community is stated.
The results of the survey aid SiC’s Research Group to more precisely focus on specific areas for future research, survey production and information gathering, in order to fulfill our readers’ and followers’ expectations.