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Skip to the dump

Jerome Monahan follows pupils on a visit to a recycling centre where they discover what happens to the rubbish they collect.

There is no doubting you are in the right place to discuss rubbish. Outside the broad windows of the i-recycle education centre in Islington, London, refuse trucks and skip delivery vehicles come and go, their flashing lights a potential source of distraction. But no member of the combined Year 45 class from nearby Ambler Primary School gives them a moment's notice - they are all too intrigued by the presentation Melissa Painter, the centre's manager, is giving to pay them any heed.

The first part of the 90-minute visit is focused on Melissa's presentation.

She begins by establishing the scale of the UK's waste problem and the rapid exhaustion of landfill sites. There is a variety of intriguing props, including a Damien Hirst-like dustbin cut away to reveal its contents and a giant magnet to illustrate how recycling centres separate steel from aluminium containers.

It is then time to explore the three Rs that define the centre's philosophy. Using the example of long-lasting bags over disposable plastic ones, Melissa helps pupils understand the first - "reduce". "Reuse" comes next, and the class is happy to come up with ideas on reusing empty plastic drinks bottles.

Finally, "recycling" - cut to a film in which a group of teenage "rubbish detectives" tours recycling facilities. The trummel machine used to sort materials into separate recyclable categories is of particular interest and comes up several times in the subsequent question-and-answer session.

This is the chance for the children, many already well-versed in caring for the environment thanks to their school's recycling culture, to ask Melissa demanding questions. We learn how much power is saved by recycling a plastic bottle or newspaper over making them from scratch, and that we do not need to be too fussed if plastic window envelopes or staples go in with the paper waste. The children are then set the task of correctly ordering a recycling sequence from a series of illustrated and captioned squares.

This hands-on approach predominates in the second half of the visit, with the children able to tour the interactive displays, games and exhibits.

Melissa says most of the room's furniture and even her fleece are derived from recycled items. The seats the children are sitting on are fashioned from old chopping boards and the clipboard she holds was once part of a computer.

One group inspects other products made from rubbish that are arranged along one of the walls. Another group plays a Space Invaders-style game that involves descending types of refuse which need rapid sorting into recyclable categories. Nine-year-old Mohamed, on his second visit to the centre, is out to beat his previous best on another of the games in which rubbish trucks are filled with recycled goods.

Marcus (11) explains his role as one of two recycling co-ordinators at his school responsible for allocating jobs to volunteers, including litter-picker duties in the playground. "This place is good," he says.

"It's interesting to know where everything goes which we collect."

Eight-year-old Leepi bursts in: "They can make jumpers out of bottles!"

Before they go, the class is invited to make a pledge based on what they have learnt on their visit. "I'm going to tell my younger brother about recycling," says William, aged nine.

lIslington's pound;200,000 i-recycle centre opened in October. Sessions are available for key stages 1-3 with KS4 to be catered for later. The centre is currently open only to Islington schools, although a fee-paying scheme for visits from schools outside the borough is under discussion


i-Recycle. Household Reuse and Recycling Centre. 1 Cottage Road, London N7 8TP. Tel: 020 7527 5996. Email:


Juliet Benis deputy head, Ambler Primary School, Islington

The group got a great deal out of their visit. The children love the games which balance the more formal parts of the session and cleverly reinforce the recycling lessons in the film and Melissa's talk. There were pupils here today who had been before and who really consolidated their understanding of recycling, and there are a number on their first visit who clearly found it stimulating. It looks as if Mohamed is threatening to break the record score on the refuse lorry game.

There is a variety of curriculum tie-ins, such as the environment strand in science, and PSHE links such as health and citizenship. The visit also chimes well with the Every Child Matters agenda, since it encourages young people to take responsibility for their actions. I want to bring as many classes here as I can as Melissa's session puts our school's recycling and conservation efforts in context, explaining, for example, where all the paper and plastics we save go and what can be done with them.

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