How to Calculate the Density of Solid Waste

Written by timothy banas
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How to Calculate the Density of Solid Waste
Graduated cylinders help in measuring the volumes of irregularly shaped solids. (cylinder image by Hubert from

To calculate the density of solid waste, you must measure its mass and volume and divide the two. For solid objects, mass is measured in grams (g) and volume is measured in cubic centimetres (cm^3). A good way to visualise two similar objects with different amounts of mass per unit volume, and therefore different densities, is to imagine holding a golf ball in one hand and a ping pong ball in the other. They are roughly the same size, but the golf ball will feel significantly heavier because it has more mass per unit volume.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Balance or scale
  • Graduated cylinder, 500 millilitres (ml)
  • Water
  • Calculator

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  1. 1

    Collect a sample of solid waste and use a balance to determine its mass. Record the mass in grams. If your scale measures weight in pounds, multiply the number of pounds by 454.5 to convert to grams.

    Example: 0.68 Kilogram x 454.5 grams per pound = 681.75g

  2. 2

    Measure the volume of your solid waste sample. Fill your graduated cylinder to the 250ml mark with water and gently lower the solid waste sample into it. Observe and record the change in water volume. The difference between the initial and final volumes reflects the volume of the sample.

    Example: Imagine that inserting the sample raised the water volume in the graduated cylinder to 425ml. The volume of the solid waste sample would be:

    425ml - 250 mL = 175 mL = 175cm^3

    This works because 1ml of water is equal to 1cm^3.

  3. 3

    Calculate the density of the solid waste by dividing its mass by its volume.

    Example: Density = mass/volume = 681.75g / 175cm^3 = 3.9g/cm^3

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