Take Out the Trash

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Learners explore how recyclers take advantage of the different properties of materials, such as magnetism and density, to separate them from a mixture. They use a magnet and floatation to separate screws, plastic, and aluminum from a mixture of pre-made "trash." The screws are removed from the mixture by a magnet, flotation separates out "trash" like yogurt cups and other plastics, and aluminum and other non-magnetic and non-floating bits of "trash" are left. This activity is part of the Environmental Chemistry unit in OMSI's Chemistry Lab. Material estimates are for 100 uses.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Four medium plastic cups
  • One large plastic cup
  • One large plastic bowl (or small plastic trash can)
  • One rectangular plastic tray (from a microwave meal)
  • One slotted spoon
  • One magnet
  • One 25-ml plastic scoop
  • Small strainer
  • About 1 to 2 cups of small zinc-plated screws and chains
  • About 50 plastic coffee stirrers
  • Two or three empty aluminum soft drink cans


  • Physical Sciences
    • Electricity and Magnetism
    • Chemistry
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society

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 Source:

  • National Science Foundation