Rubbish-tipped for stardom

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Eureka!, Tales From The Rubbish Dump, Channel 4, Tuesdays and Fridays, 9.30 9.45am. Teachers' guide Pounds 3.95. ETC, POBox 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ. Tales from the Rubbish Dump is precisely what this series of Eureka!

threatens to be. It is a series of useful tales about the things we throw away and is set in no better place than a rubbish dump, live rats and all.

Who better to tell the story but the rejects themselves: a plastic cup, a load of rotting apples, a used paper tissue, a discarded mirror and a pair of worn mittens? These animated characters tell us how they were made and why they got to be where they are.

The series is an award-winning collection of riches to rags stories, each throwing up points about pollution and recycling and questions about our throw-away society too. First made for Finnish school television, the series won last year's City of Basle prize for best schools programme, and is now being presented in an English-language version.

The stars of "The Apple's Tale" are a lively but unsightly lot of bruised and mouldy fruit. They are strangely cheerful too, so it's a cue for a song as they rap about their destiny. We learn about soil, sun and seeds. We learn about bees and pollen, how plants grow, how things decompose and how animals help disperse seeds. But we, and the apples, themselves come to realise that, though carrying the seeds for a new generation, this is no place for them to take root and grow. Maybe a rat will eat them and complete the cycle.

This series is rich in good science fact. Although I would take issue with calling plant nutrients "atoms", as it's a bit wrong, that will not affect the potential for class activities on food chains, growing seeds, preserving or decomposing fruit. These are just some of the fertile ideas suggested by the teacher's guide.

An animated tissue in "The Tissue's Tale" shows how a tree is felled, shredded and ultimately turned to pulp and paper. We hear about the chemicals that are discarded when paper is bleached and about the inky-sludge left-over when printed paper is recycled. All this for what? To be an advertising flyer how frivolous, ah but to be a scientific journal now that's more soulful.

Other tales tell about making plastic cups from oil and mittens from wool. We look at using oil to make fuel and plastics, the damage caused by oil tankers and question the use of plastic for disposables. The mittens don't cause that much blight though we do learn about shearing and spinning wool.

A nice feature in this tale, and in the others too, are the reminders about the sun's energy we soon come to realise that sheep, oil and apples owe their lot to the sun.

That message comes over clearly from Zap, a costumed super-hero, who interrupts regularly to make his point. And as a consequence of the series coming from Finland, it's all done without moving his lips.

There's a very green, even dark green message here whether it's because the programmes hail from the continent I do not know but it's not the liberal "just recycle-it" message we're used to here. Looking at this positively, there is loads to discuss and the teachers' guide can be relied on to help unpick the many such threads that weave through the programmes.

The rubbish dump setting, depressingly close to hell and inhabited by largely pathetic characters, will endear the programmes to few. But if, as suspected, your children delight in being disgusted, by rats, worms and murkiness, they'll probably say it's "binliner-tastic".

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