Don't Throw it in the Garbage

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In this activity, learners discover why only some types of plastic can be recycled. The objective of this activity is to increase awareness of recycling polymers through the use of the "three arrow numbering system." Classes of polymers, uses, and physical properties of some thermoplastics are investigated. Safety note: The acetone is extremely flammable and should be kept away from flames. This is an excellent activity to do before "Plastics the Second Time Around," an activity from the same resource (see related resource).

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A set of polymer/plastic objects, can be brought in from home by learners
  • A large box to contain samples of polymers
  • A Styrofoam cup
  • A 400 ml beaker
  • 20 ml of acetone
  • A glass stirring rod


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Chemical Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
      • Metallurgy and Materials Engineering
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation Education and Human Resource Directorate, ESI 92-53386
  • National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Cement Based Materials
  • Dow Chemical Foundation
  • Materials Research Society
  • Iron and Steel Society
  • Peoria Chapter of the American Society for Metals