Recycled-Pen Chandelier Illuminates Plastic History

biro recycled plastic bic pen chandelier photo

The clear polystyrene barrels of 347 Bic pens let the light shine through. Photo via the Science Museum.

Crafted by Spanish design company enPieza "as a tribute to a classic plastic design," this limited-edition chandelier on display at the Science Museum is London is equally a testament to clever recycling -- it's made from 347 polystyrene Bic Cristal pens and 347 paperclips.The Bic Biro Chandelier is part of a long-running (through December 1, 2010) special exhibition, "Plasticity - 100 Years of Making Plastics," that celebrates the ingenuity involved in creating "the first truly man-made material," as well as its modern substitutes, while looking at the environmental implications of this discovery and plastics' subsequent spread around the world.

From Coffins to Cars
Exhibits range from a coffin made out of Bakelite, the early plastic invented by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907, to the Japanese i-Unit concept car, which uses more environmentally friendly plant-based plastic made from kenaf fibers -- a material that has the added bonus of being much lighter than traditional petroleum-based plastics, making vehicles constructed from it more energy efficient to drive. Online components include two games to teach kids about the chemical structure of plastics and which ones are recyclable.

While there doesn't seem to be much to celebrate about plastic these days, a look back at the invention of the material that has spread into "our lives, our homes, our bodies" shows that the same smarts used to create plastic can also be used to imagine its replacement.

More about plastics:
A Plastic Planet: The Price of a Bargain?
An Ocean of Plastic...In Birds' Guts (Slideshow)
Bio-Plastics Could Replace Up to 90% of Plastics, But Not in Short Term
The Politics of Plastics: Food Fights Over Bisphenol A
Is New Biodegradable Plastic the Answer?
How Corn Plastics Are Made, And Why We Still Aren't Thrilled
Persian Gulf States Go For Plastic Recycling
Plastic Politics and Sweden's Bio-Bag Backlash

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