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Waste not want not

Alan Peacock takes his students to see the 'reduce, recycle, re-use' mantra in action

At Carymoor Environmental Centre in Somerset visitors see truck loads of household rubbish turned into compost, electricity and clean water.

In come lorries almost every minute loaded with bin-bagged rubbish which they see dumped and crushed by huge tractors. The glass, metal, plastic and tyres are sorted for re-cycling. "Green" waste goes on huge steaming piles of compost for organic growers or is used to generate electricity by burning methane which goes into the National Grid. Contaminated liquid (leachate) is treated by aerobic digestion until it is cleaner than the river it is wind-pumped into.

When the centre invited me to take a party of PGCE science students to see its work I wondered if there be much to learn. Yet soon after arriving, I was converted: Carymoor's big plus is that children see the full cycle of conversion of rubbish to something useful.

There are two aspects of the site: the landfill part, run by Wyvern Waste, and the centre, run by Carymoor Environmental Trust.

The centre has three classrooms built from locally-sourced materials by local craftsmen and insulated with re-cycled newspaper. They use wind and solar power and there are composting loos.

About 5,000 pupils from pre-school to tertiary visited Carymoor in its first year, three years ago. The programmes are deliberately crosscurricular and customised to schools' needs, but concentrate on sustainability. Carymoor staff also visit schools, with messages about waste minimisation and re-cycling.

There are plenty of activities to complement a site tour such as undertaking a waste audit to determine what items can be recycled. Or pupils try a role-play in which they take part in a public meeting to decide whether a proposed site should be used for waste disposal. This exercise shows that there are many social and political aspects to such decisions.

Attending the alternative energy workshop is another option. Alternatives to fossil fuels are explained and discussed, with particular regard to their environmental impacts. The sustainable energy resources used at Carymoor are emphasised as good examples. Pupils also have the chance to experiment with solar panels and wind generators.

Other activities involving living creatures include ecological surveys using transects and quadrates, mini-beast hunts and pond-dipping around the restored land, water features and woodland.

Carymoor Environmental Trust is essentially about managing and developing 100 acres of landfill. Universities and national wildlife charities are involved in transplanting trees, replacing hedgerows and creating a wider diversity of life than there was before. Centre staff have also set up links with three universities involved in teacher education - primarily at Exeter, but also Bath Spa and Plymouth - to develop school programmes.

Carymoor's work is about much more than minimising landfill. Children spend a day making decisions and role-playing. But most of all, they see, feel, hear and smell the direct impact of their consumption on their landscape.

For many schools from across the South-west, it is "the best visit we ever had".

The Trust's principal teacher is Graham JenningsTel: 01963 350143Email:

Dr Alan Peacock is reader in primary science education at Exeter University

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