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V. Richterová: Roses, 2007, height ca. 110 cm

V. Richterová: Roses, 2007, height ca. 110 cm

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Plastic art from PET bottles: © Veronika Richterová

Folk art creations made from PET bottles: unknown creative people

Concept of the exhibition, texts and accompanying photographs: © Veronika Richterová and Michal Cihlář Photographs of Veronika Richterová’s works: © Michal Cihlář

Editing of the text: © Petr Matoušek

Translation of the text: © Peter Stephens

Graphic design: © Michal Cihlář

DTP studio: Martin Tománek

The exhibition has been produced in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Internet presentation of the artists: www.gallery.cz

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WHAT IS PET?

Dvě podoby polyethylentereftalátu (PET), suroviny pro výrobu PET lahví. Vlevo granulát (panenský PET), vpravo recyklát z použitých PET lahví v podobě drti a vloček.

Two forms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the raw material used for manufacturing PET bottles. On the left granulate (virgin PET), on the right recycled PET bottles in the form of regrind and flakes.

(CO-(C6H4)-CO-O-(CH2)2-O)n

The widely-known abbreviation PET conceals a substance called polyethylene terephthalate, at the present time the most important thermoplastic polyester. It is manufactured by the polycondensation of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, using two phases at a temperature of around 190 °C. To manufacture  kilogram of this polymer, whose molecules are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, about 1.9 kilograms of crude oil are needed. PET is used in the manufacture of textile fibres for clothing and technical fabrics, for insulating electric wires, for manufacturing ropes and conveyor belts, for reinforcing tyres, for manufacturing displays and films used in electronic appliances, and above all in the food industry. The most widespread use of polyethylene terephthalate – nearly 80% of it – comes namely in the form of PET bottles, because it forms an excellent packaging material that is particularly suitable for drinks, detergents and cosmetics. In this respect it represents a worldwide trend. In the Czech Republic alone there is an annual consumption of around 60 000 tons of various types of PET bottles.

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PET AND ITS BEGINNINGS

Tvary PET lahví se neustále vyvíjejí ve snaze odrážet dobu svého vzniku i aktuální módní trendy.

The shapes of PET bottles are constantly evolving in an effort to reflect the period they are designed in and current fashion trends.

Polyethylene teraphthalate was discovered in the early 1930s by the DuPont company. The first patents for its manufacture were applied for by R. Whinfield and J.T. Dickson from the Calico Printer’s company in Manchester in 1941. In the 1950s PET started to be used for manufacturing film for the food industry with the commercial name Mylar, but the PET bottle itself was not patented until 1973 and it was not put to commercial use in some developed countries until the early 1980s. The Coca-Cola company did not start to use plastic bottles until 1991. In the Czech Republic PET bottles appeared as an innovation with the opening up of the market after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Initially they were used for packaging previously unknown imported drinks characterised by luxury prices, and not for normal goods. The traditional Czech mineral waters thus continued to be sold exclusively in glass bottles with a deposit on them. The breakthrough came in 1994 when the first domestic PET bottles appeared on the Czech market, used for the natural water with the trade name Aquila. The range of PET bottles expanded considerably in the years 1996-1998, with the addition of both foreign drinks made under licence and domestic ones. Currently the consumption of plastic bottles is rapidly increasing every year, mainly due to the great popularity of bottled water.

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PRODUCTION METHOD FOR PET BOTTLES

PET lahve se nejčastěji vyfukují z předem vylisovaných polotovarů, takzvaných preforem. (firma Retal Czech, a. s., Mělník)

PET bottles are usually blow moulded from previously moulded semi-finished products known as preforms (Retal Czech, a. s. company, Mělník).

At present PET bottles are manufactured by blow moulding on high-capacity production lines, usually directly on the site where they are filled with drinks. At the beginning of the production process is polyethylene terephthalate granulate, which is melted and pressed into what are known as preforms – a moulding which at first sight looks like a test-tube with a bottle-cap thread. Depending on the size of the final bottle, preforms of varying gram weights are manufactured. On a production line, the warmed preform is inserted into a metal water-cooled mould cavity, which is then closed around it, and the preform is blow moulded by air pressure into the final bottle shape. Using this method, the most efficient machines can produce up to 6 000 bottles per hour. PET bottles are rapidly replacing classic glass bottles in the shops. The reason for this is on the one hand the excellent optical qualities of this polymer, and on the other the fact that it is impact-resistant, very lightweight, and is non-toxic when in contact with food. For beer and wine special bottles are made from laminated plastic, which completely excludes any undesirable escape of carbon dioxide through the wall of the bottle.

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COLOURED PET BOTTLES

panel_05_cz_small1 panel_05_cz_small2 panel_05_cz_small3 Some creative people like to use coloured self-adhesive foil to make their PET windmills more beautiful. The largest share of Czech production consists of clear plastic bottles, which are also the most suitable from the point of view of secondary processing. Nevertheless, a large number of bottles are also made from coloured plastic. Manufacturers may do this because of the need to protect the drink from the light (examples being brown bottles for beer or traditionally green bottles for wine), but the main reasons are marketing ones: a drink in a coloured bottle is more attractive and therefore sells better. Consequently the range of colours that are mixed with the basic raw material is constantly expanding. Most companies launch their new coloured lines before the summer season, when in targeted advertising campaigns they try to increase sales of their drinks with various limited series, such as bottles made of silver or gold plastic. Drinks can also be routinely bought in red, orange, yellow, purple or pink bottles, but the most common colours remain shades of blue or green, because these two colouring agents are the cheapest ones. Parallel with these trends, there is currently a boom in the technology of covering clear bottles with a shrunk film printed in bright colours, known as a sleeve.

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WHAT DIRECTION IS DESIGN MOVING IN?

Harmoniková lahev vynálezce Oty Mušálka se po vypití jednoduše zmáčkne, čímž se značně ušetří místo ve sběrném kontejneru, a tedy i náklady na svoz (patentováno, licence MaxDrinks s. r. o.).

The “harmonica” bottle invented by Ota Mušálek can be simply crumpled up when the contents have been drunk, saving a lot of space in the waste container, and thus saving transport costs too (patented, licence MaxDrinks s. r. o.).

The first PET bottles had a simple shape without any kind of designer ambitions. However, right from the beginning they were characterised by what is known as a pentaloid shape, the typical strengthening of the base by means of five projections. This is still used with the vast majority of bottles, because it provides ideal resistance to the pressure of the carbon dioxide contained in the drink. Currently some three hundred different shapes of PET bottles are to be found in Czech shops. The leading brand names invest in professional design. With prestigious firms innovative shapes and colours thus become part of advertising campaigns and well-planned commercial strategies. For example, through sophisticated shaping it is possible to make the wall of the bottle thinner, thus saving plastic. Manufacturers also try to attract custo- mers by introducing bottles with non-traditional capacities or unusual cap construction. A unique phenomenon in this field is the invention of folding PET bottles, launched on the market in 2008, and following environmental rather than aesthetic priorities. This new bottle also has a paper tie-on label instead of one that is glued on, thus also reducing the quantity of chemicals necessary for cleaning the material.

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COLLECTION SYSTEM FOR USED PET BOTTLES

Typický žlutý kontejner na plastový odpad se stal běžnou výbavou téměř každého města či vesnice.

The characteristic yellow container for plastic waste has become a normal feature of almost every town and village.

Since 1997 the collection and sorting of waste has been organised throughout the Czech Republic by a single authorised company: EKO-KOM. It brings together on the one hand the commercial entities that produce the bottles and on the other the local authorities that are legally obliged to arrange for the collection and removal of sorted secondary raw materials for its residents. Every manufacturer or importer of packaged products pays EKO-KOM a regular charge for taking care of its waste. EKO-KOM signs contracts with the local authorities, to whom it makes a contribution from the money it has received towards the cost of collecting, transporting and sorting of waste. Already nearly 21 000 companies and around 5 000 municipal authorities are involved in the system, covering the vast majority of the population. Around 150 000 containers are deployed throughout the country for waste collection, with the following colours: blue for waste paper, green and white for glass, yellow for plastic and orange for drinks cartons of the Tetrapack type. Although this system has proved to work well and three quarters of the population do sort their waste, it still happens that some of the waste plastic ends up lying around in the countryside. This negative phenomenon recently gave rise to discussion among politicians as to whether it would not be better to introduce in the Czech Republic a system of paying a deposit on PET bottles, like that already used in some Western European countries.

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PROCESSING USED PET BOTTLES

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Separating PET bottles from other types of plastic is carried out manually on an assorting line.

Plastic waste is transported to assorting lines, where it is separated into different materials. PET bottles are further sorted by colour into clear, blue, green, and mixed. The sorted material is then pressed into bales of about one cubic metre, which are taken to another processing centre. Here the bales are separated out again, foreign substances are removed manually on a sorting belt, and any traces of metal are removed with the help of detectors. Then the bottles are shredded into small fragments, known as flakes, in a high-power crushing machine. The regrind thus obtained is repeatedly washed and rinsed in water until all remaining impurities and traces of labels are removed. Then the flakes are dried and packed in sacks for transport to specialised recycling plants. Nobody unscrews the caps from the bottles during sorting. It is unnecessary, because polypropylene (PP), from which they are mostly made, is lighter than PET, and so after crushing it floats to the surface during the washing process, so it can easily be separated for further recycling.

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TRENDS IN PET RECYCLING

Z recyklovaných PET lahví vzniká měkké a hřejivé textilní vlákno, které nachází široké uplatnění v oděvnickém, nábytkářském a automobilovém průmyslu.

A product of recycling PET bottles is a soft, warm textile fibre, which finds a wide range of uses in the clothing, furniture and automobile industries.

PET is fairly easy to recycle, and so it can no longer be considered as useless waste. On the contrary, thanks to the organised system of waste collection, it has now become an extremely valued commodity, suitable above all for the production of staple fibres for the textile industry. The only producer of these recycled fibres in the Czech Republic is the Silon company in the town of Planá nad Lužnicí. Staple fibre produced in this way is used as filling for anoraks, duvets and sleeping bags, and is successfully used in upholstery, too. Recycled fibre is also added to heavy-duty carpets and in recent years it has been extensively used in manufacturing interior coverings for cars. Part of the used raw material is also re-circulated into new PET bottles. Melted-down old bottles are treated in special appliances under pressure and at temperatures around 260 °C to produce regranulate, which is mixed with virgin PET produced from oil to manufacture new bottles. A new trend in the reuse of polyethylene teraphthalate is the “bottle-to-bottle” system. This is a unique chemical technology that reestablishes the broken molecular links, and on this basis old bottles can be used to make PET-M, a substance with qualities comparable to or even better than virgin PET itself.

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PET BOTTLES AS AN EXPORT ARTICLE

Není žádným tajemstvím, že pomocí jednoduché technologie se PET lahve převtělují v módní oblečení.

It is no secret that by using simple technology PET bottles can be transformed into fashionable clothing.

In recent years there has been a marked increase in the demand for PET as a used material. At least half of Czech PET bottles that are pressed into bales are exported to the People’s Republic of China, from where it later returns in the form of cheap clothing and toys. In manufacturing these textiles the Chinese add the fibre produced from PET bottles to classic natural materials such as wool and cotton, and in this way mixed materials are created that are widely used and drive high-quality natural products off the market because they are cheaper. Recycled polyethylene teraphthalate also turns up in products where we would not expect it, for example in jeans or towels, while pure PET fibre is used in the manufacture of popular sporting knitwear or fleeces. Only about five PET bottles are needed to make one T-shirt, while twenty-five are enough for a whole ski jacket. At present China is the biggest processor of polyethylene teraphthalate waste in the world and its interest in used PET bottles is continually increasing. In the Czech Republic, too, a not inconsiderable quantity of recycled PET bottles is used in the manufacture of fibres, although there is only one processor in the country operating this process.

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THE DISADVANTAGES OF PET

panel_11_cz_small1 panel_11_cz_small2 In cemeteries all over the Czech Republic graves are decorated by funeral vases made from PET bottles Bottles made of polyethylene teraphthalate have a whole range of advantages, thanks to which they have spread rapidly practically throughout the world. They are strong, flexible, unbreakable, light, and resistant to solvents. They can be re-closed an infinite number of times and – above all – they are cheap. Paradoxically, one basic disadvantage of PET bottles arises from these very qualities of this type of plastic. For PET does not decompose in the natu- ral environment… Its durability is affected neither by large temperature fluctuations nor by wet conditions. Experts throughout the world have therefore for years been studying and testing possible ways of producing bottles from biodegradable plastic. The first such bottle, manufactured on the basis of modified starch, was launched on the market in Great Britain in 2006. However, for the time being its mass use is prevented by a number of technical problems and high production costs. The Czech Republic, too, is struggling with the problem of environmental pollution, to which PET bottles also contribute, especially on plots of land alongside roads. The road administration authority therefore undertakes an intensive cleaning operation every year in the spring. In other areas that are not so easily accessible, such as protected landscape areas and reservations, cleaning is organised by various environmental and youth groups with the help of volunteers.

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ENJOYMENT HIDDEN IN PET BOTTLES

Školáci ze základní školy v Buštěhradě skládají z barevných víček od PET lahví mapu České republiky.

Children from the primary school in Bustěhrad made a map of the Czech Republic out of coloured PET bottle caps.

Collecting anything is generally very popular in the Czech Republic, especially among children. Collecting secondary raw materials has a long tradition in the schools here, and a con- tributory factor to this positive trend is the organisation of entertaining events aimed at informing and educating people about waste management. A recent phenomenon is the collection of coloured caps from PET bottles. On occasions like Earth Day in April or other local anniversaries or celebrations, various competitions are organised with environmental themes. Attractive possibilities of this type include making coloured pictures out of bottle caps or setting unusual records. In 007, for example, 700 children and adults in Uherské Hradiště made a giant mosaic measuring 10 x 11 metres out of bottle caps. Also popular are competitions to make the longest snake: children in Nymburk threaded a total of 20 642 bottle caps onto a fishing line that was  1 954 metres long. In short, there is no limit to people’s ima- gination. The record for the largest “ecological carpet” was achieved in Třebíč in 2006, when the town square, measuring 6.33 square metres, was covered by a total of  20 000 PET bottles. Interesting artistic artefacts are sometimes also created during art and craft lessons, when teachers show children how to use non-traditional materials to make various figures and puppets.

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ATYPICAL USES OF PET BOTTLES

V nápadech na nové využití odpadu se úspěšně mísí recyklační myšlení se snahou ušetřit omezené finance, tak jako v případě tohoto oplocení pozemku.

Ideas for re-using waste successfully combine the recycling principle with attempts to save money.

It is said that Czechs are all do-it-yourself experts. This assertion is not too far from the truth, for during the days of “real socialism”, when shops throughout the country were empty and the country experienced a severe lack of consumer goods, people were obliged to resort to home-made solutions for complicated situations. However, even after 1989, when the “velvet revolution” put an end to the forty-year era of communist rule and the country finally became a free democratic land with all the consumer devices resulting from the operation of a market economy, displays of spontaneous do-it-yourself work did not disappear. They are to be found especially in rural areas, where they have a long tradition. And the omnipresent PET bottles – in a certain sense a symbol of a post-revolutionary, more modern life – present themselves as a suitable material for do-it-yourself purposes. Simple products made from plastic bottles are to be seen everywhere in the countryside or in gardens and allotments, and instructions for making them can be found in magazines and television programmes dealing with hobbies, or circulating on the internet. In order to make an effective and functional product, all that is needed is a sharp knife or scissors, and perhaps a piece of wire or sticking tape. Thanks to the resistance of the material to extreme heat and cold and to its universal availability, it opens up a wide range of possibilities to people with creative abilities.

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PET BOTTLES IN THE GARDEN

panel_14_cz_small2 panel_14_cz_small1 While for moles the encounter with PET bottles is merely unpleasant, for wasps it is fatal. The most common object made of PET to be found in Czech gardens is a simple device for frightening away moles. Moles are of course useful insect eaters, living mainly on worms and larvae, but in the garden they are capable of digging many tunnels below the surface in a short time and piling the earth up into unsightly molehills. Which is why gardeners are not too fond of them. In their efforts to drive away these uninvited guests they are helped by an iron pole stuck into a flowerbed with a PET bottle on top of it. The noise made by the bottle as it vibrates in the wind is transmitted along the stick into the ground and frightens the animals away. An improved version of this device – with little “wings” jutting out of the bottle – acts as a windmill and keeps at bay not only moles but also birds. An inexhaustible range of possibilities are available for creating these windmills, allowing the effectiveness of the design to be combined with purely decorative features. Another useful invention is filling PET bottles with water and hanging them on the branches of young trees, where they act as a counterweight and ensure that the branches grow in the proper direction. In the summer PET bottles containing a little sweetened juice are hung on fruit trees as a trap for wasps and similar pests. In the winter, on the contrary, feeding boxes cleverly carved out of the same material make life more pleasant for songbirds spending the winter here.

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GARDEN CONSTRUCTIONS MADE OUT OF PET

Finanční náklady na podobné funkční stavby jsou většinou zanedbatelné.

The financial costs for functional constructions like this are usually negligible.

PET bottles can also be put to excellent use as an alternative building material. Greenhouses made out of non-coloured bottles are now appearing in allotments, because inventive flower and vegetable growers are glad to make use of this light but at the same time sufficiently strong plastic. The walls of these greenhouses, made by simply inserting a large number of bottles into each other, in fact have better insulation qualities than classic glass ones, are excellent moisture retainers, and let through diffused light in an ideal way, just as the plants need it. In addition, the material for this sort of construction is available free, which pensioner gardeners, in particular, appreciate. If creative gardeners fill PET bottles with water, then they have a fairly stable and durable construction unit, which can for example be used to make coloured borders for flowerbeds. On sloping ground it is possible to make fully functional supporting walls without using mortar by stacking a large number of bottles, filled with water and laid flat. Rainwater can be drained away from small garden buildings by ingenious gutters made specially for the particular situation by inserting PET bottles into one another. On garden gates letterboxes can also sometimes be found made from PET bottles.

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OTHER USES OF PET BOTTLES

panel_16_cz_small1 panel_16_cz_small2 PET bottles used to protect a lock against the rain or as insulation for a home-made electric fence Thanks to their outstanding qualities, new ways are constantly being found to use PET bottles, not only in gardens and allotments, but in the household and on building sites as well. Bottles with the top cut off and placed over the top of metal fence posts to stop water running into them are a frequent sight. In winter an empty bottle in a water barrel can effectively prevent the container being damaged by frost – the pressure of the ice deforms the bottle, but the barrel does not burst. There are even attempts to use closed PET bottles as insulation in concrete flooring. PET bottles filled with water can act as a practical weighting element: hung on ropes from the canvas covering over outside swimming pools or shed roofs, they can prevent them from being carried off by the wind. People who keep birds and small animals use plastic bottles to make dispensers for them to drink from, while on the same principle those who grow ornamental flowers use upside-down bottles for gradually watering their flowerbeds. PET bottles have also established themselves in the traditional domestic production of apple and fruit juices. Experience has shown that not only are they not affected by the temperature necessary for sterilising the fruit juice, but that the seal when they are closed is so perfect that the juice retains its quality for many years. In view of the way our lifestyle is developing so quickly today, we can therefore properly expect that the future of PET bottles will be a very varied one.

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WHAT IS PET-ART?

Autorská výstava Veroniky Richterové PET-ART v galerii v Litvínově, 2008

Independent exhibition by V. Richterová PET-ART in the gallery in Litvínov, 2008

From the moment when Veronika Richterová (born 1964) – the artist who created the works presented here – first experimented with using ordinary PET bottles for mineral water in her work, a fundamental turning point occurred in her creative work. Since 2004 she has devoted herself systematically to serious artistic work with PET bottles. The easily malleable PET has surprisingly proved to be an excellent material for fulfilling her artistic intentions. For this offshoot of her artistic aspirations she has chosen the designation PET-ART. Richterová and the graphic artist Michal Cihlář (born 1960) have together, in addition to their other artistic activities, systematically mapped out and archived everything relating to the theme of PET bottles. Their principal activity is photographing “popular” PET-ART, in other words documenting the varied ideas of anonymous creative individuals, who use old PET bottles in new ways. Their aim is to capture the fundamental principle of the human desire for creative recycling. And it is not in the least important whether the work in question is purely functional, or is simply a decorative object… Displays of a similar creative approach to using plastic can today be found in practically every country in which polye thylene teraphthalate packaging has established itself. It can therefore be assumed that this exhibition of purely Czech conceptions of PET-ART will have its parallels all over the world.