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Recycling: Plastic fantastic

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By Gillian Ravenscroftscience coordinator and freelance writer

Promote recycling and help look after the environment with fun activities using plastic containers

With almost half of all wrapped goods currently encased in plastic, packaging now accounts for around 35 per cent of the UK’s total plastic consumption. Fortunately, punnets and moulds make useful receptacles for art and craft materials. Bulky waste can also be put to good use with our craft ideas for reusing plastic containers.


  1. Salt-powered lava lamp
  2. Weather station
  3. Rocket science

1. Salt-powered lava lamp

DIY salt-powered lava lamp

You will need: a transparent plastic bottle or other tall, clear container/beaker; water; cooking oil; salt; food colouring and a funnel.

What to do:

1. The original lava lamp, invented in the 1960s, worked by using the heat of an electric bulb to melt lumps of coloured wax that then rose through a liquid before cooling and sinking again. You can reuse plastic containers to create similar movement in a salt lava model and encourage children to observe what happens as the materials change.

2. Remove any labels from the bottle and fill approximately two thirds of it with water. Use a funnel to add a couple of drops of food colouring and about 50mls of oil. Lighter coloured food colouring will make the globules easier to see. Allow the contents to settle: the food colouring will colour the water, while the oil forms a layer on the surface.

3. To make the ‘lava lamp’ work, gradually add half teaspoons of salt into the bottle. The more salt you add, the more globules you’ll see. The additional weight on the surface will initially force globules of oil to sink. As the salt dissolves in the water, the oil will rise back to the surface.

4. You can add salt until the water becomes saturated. A transparent plastic container/beaker will increase the surface area on which to add the salt, but a bottle and lid might ensure fewer spills! Also note, this lava lamp only works while you are adding salt.

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DIY rocket

Don’t forget to download the step-by-step instructions to make your own rocket in our activity sheet ‘Rocket science’.

2. Weather station

DIY anemometer

DIY wind sock

You will need: a collection of plastic bottles; four yoghurt pots; doweling; plastic straw; small plastic lid; string; long, thin nail; plastic bag; bradawl and a hammer (requires adult supervision).

What to do:

  1. To make a rain collector: Slice the top third off a two litre plastic bottle and invert this into the lower section to form a funnel. In an exposed patch of ground, dig a hole large enough to hold the rain collector and prevent it toppling over.
  2. To make a wind sock: Remove the lid and cut off the base of a two litre milk container. Use a bradawl to punch six equally spaced holes – 1cm in – around the bottom edge of the container. Thread narrow strips of plastic bag through each hole and tie to create streamers (see image, right).

Make a stand by pushing a piece of doweling through the centre of the container (use the bradawl to make the hole first). Pass the doweling into a drinks bottle (via a hole in its lid) that is filled a third of the way up with sand. Rotate the model to find which direction the wind is blowing in.

  1. To make an anemometer: Secure two lengths of doweling at right angles to each other using string. Make identical holes through the yoghurt pots (as shown) and thread onto each end of the cross – ensuring the pots face in the same direction.

Cut a small section of plastic straw and slip this onto a long, slim nail. Gently tap the nail through the centre of the doweling cross. When enough nail emerges underneath, slip on another section of straw and then tap the nail through a flat plastic lid until the nail emerges through the end.

Next, tap the nail into the end of a thicker piece of doweling. Ensuring that the cross still spins freely. Half fill a 500ml bottle with sand. Make a hole in the lid and sink the anemometer into the bottle. Assess wind speed by marking one yoghurt pot and counting the number of rotations.

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  1. Contact Form
    on 5 October 2010

    form generator

    last few days our class held a similar discussion about this topic and you show something we have not covered yet, appreciate that.

    - Laura