Working with Scrap 'Found' Materials

Scrap 'found' materials are often used in schools, particularly for three-dimensional work. For more than 100 years, artists have used found materials, scrap materials and have recycled resources to make new art  They are a cheap means of extending the range of activities and encouraging experimentation and creative adaptation. At the same time, they raise the consciousness of ecological issues and importance of recycling. There are, however, obvious hazards related to storage, manipulation and processing, particularly where the source or properties of the found materials are unknown. 

In addition, schools may be given free resources or waste materials from local companies, or may be a member of a local materials resource bank. This can provide valuable resources, offer opportunities for new and untested projects and help subject budgets when tightly stretched. Such opportunities may present a challenge for creative experimentation and consequently to the risk assessment process, unless teachers have carefully analysed the materials and considered the possible hazards with processes, tools and equipment that may be needed to safely manage the making activities.

CLEAPSS guidance - MRAT - 171 - Projects, Testing, Experimental & Novel Activities Materials

CLEAPSS guidance - MRAT - 153 - Working with Scrap Materials

Handling, Shaping and Cutting

These processes, along with joining and dismantling, are all potentially hazardous and care should be taken to ensure that materials and objects are held securely and handled with care in an appropriate working environment. Teachers should ensure that pupils are properly advised on the selection and correct use of the appropriate tools for each material being worked.

CLEAPSS guidance - MRAT - 012 - Cutting and Shaping Metal by hand

CLEAPSS guidance - MRAT - 150 - 3-Dimensional Carving, Cutting & Abrading

CLEAPSS guidance - MRAT - 011 - Craft Knives, Scalpels and Scissors

CLEAPSS guidance - MRAT - 052 - Abrading and Trimming Plastics

Treating Surfaces

Treating surfaces that are already painted, dyed or covered with unknown materials should also be done carefully. Since little will be known about the composition of such surface materials, burning or the application of other chemicals can cause hazardous reactions.

Personal Hygiene

Hands should be thoroughly washed after working. Appropriate personal protective clothing and PPE should be worn and care taken to avoid inhalation or ingestion of unknown substances.


Storage of scrap materials should be considered as part of normal 'housekeeping', and regular clear-outs should be made. Teachers should consider the safety of storing found materials, using labelling on storage crates and shelving systems to help identify resources and follow regulations regarding safe storage at height.