Brought to you by Chris Hamlett.

Separating Materials

How quickly can you separate your recycling?

Materials have many different properties which we can use to help separate them (imagine how long it would take to separate a full recycling bin using just your hands!). In this activity you can use density and magnetism to separate materials that you will often put in your recycling bin.

You can download a worksheet for the activity here and watch a supporting video here and why not challenge your friends to see who can separate a mixture of ten glass marbles, ten plastic bottle tops and ten metal bottle tops in the quickest time.

Equipment needed

  • Magnet
  • Sieve
  • A large bowl (or basin)
  • Metal (magnetic) bottle tops
  • Plastic bottle tops
  • Glass marbles
  • Water



 Cuts – from broken glass marbles or sharp edges to the metal bottle tops

Curriculum Links

Key stage 1

  • Distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made.
  • Describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials.
  • Identify and name a variety of everyday materials, including wood, plastic, glass, metal, water, and rock.
  • Compare and group together a variety of everyday materials on the basis of their simple physical properties.

Key Stage 2

  • Observe how magnets attract or repel each other and attract some materials and not others.
  • Compare and group together a variety of everyday materials on the basis of whether they are attracted to a magnet, and identify some magnetic materials.
  • Compare and group together different kinds of rocks on the basis of their appearance and simple physical properties.
  • Notice that some forces need contact between two objects, but magnetic forces can act at a distance.


Relevant links and pages

  • Use our Recycling Scavenger hunt to investigate the materials in your recycling (and to find out if and how they can be recycled)