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Broken Down Breakdown

More than just the sum of their parts, get a good look at what makes things tick

Australian Curriculum Links

  • Science > Chemical Sciences > Year 2 > ACSSU031
  • Science > Earth and Space Sciences > Year 2 > ACSSU032
  • Science > Chemical Sciences > Year 4 > ACSSU074
  • Science > Science as Human Endeavour > Year 2 > ACSHE022 & ACSHE035
  • Technology > Technologies and Society > Year F–2 > ACTDEK001

You’ll Need

  • Broken toys or everyday items (e.g. bicycle pumps, clocks, old telephones, headphones)
    • If these aren't available, retractable pens are a simple, cheap option
  • Simple tool kit (one flat, one Phillips head screwdrivers, pair of pliers, Allen keys) per group
  • Large sheets of paper or plastic

Safety note: avoid items with a lot of electronics or screens as these contain heavy metals and can shatter easily. Make sure all electrical appliances are disconnected and batteries removed safely.

Try this

  1. In groups, choose a broken item or items and a simple tool kit.
  2. Carefully disassemble the item and group each of the components by composition, e.g. plastic, metal, rubber, wood. Try to identify the purpose of each of the parts as you go.
  3. Work out if these components can be recycled or reused. If they can’t be reused or recycled, think about how they can be disposed of.
  4. Wash hands thoroughly at the end the activity and recycle or dispose of parts thoughtfully.

Further investigation

  • Can you identify the broken parts?
  • Can you fix your broken item?
  • Can you use the parts from one broken item to fix another?
  • What would you change to make the item more durable?
  • iFixit has repair guides for a number of items.

What’s Happening?

Many appliances and toys are made from a variety of materials. Each of them forms a specific purpose, such as rubber forming a soft, non-slip grip, and they come from many sources. This can make it more difficult to recycle or repair broken items. Think about why each of these materials have been used. What makes them special and why are they used where they are? Think about things like weight, insulation, durability. Sometimes the cost of materials means the best material isn’t always chosen.

Real world links

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a big problem in our tips. As appliances become more specialised, they are harder to repair and recycle, leading to more being thrown in the tip. Electronics in particular contain heavy metals and specialised plastics that can be very poisonous when left exposed to water and air. These metals dissolve in water and pollute rivers and streams.

Up until 2008, 17 million televisions and 37 million computers where sent to landfill. Of the 15.7 million computers that reached the end of the life in 2008, only 1.5 million were recycled. Recycling these appliances saves water, energy and landfill space.