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Feature: Making waste interesting

Getting them young is said to be the key to effectively promoting the recycling message. But if there is any hope of getting students to practice what they have been taught, the quality of the message is everything. Fortunately, dedicated schools groups have made an art of making waste interesting.

The Schools Waste Action Club (SWAC) is a Norfolk County Council programme that provides free hands-on help and advice on waste reduction, re-use and recycling in schools.

SWAC links curriculum-based activities to practical waste reduction initiatives. Through activities such as waste audits, SWAC guides pupils and staff through the identification of waste issues in the school and encourages them to develop their own waste minimisation action plan.

According to waste reduction officer Mark Henderson, the response they have from students is very positive, and feedback has shown that the emphasis
on pupil-led action and fun activities is the key to the programme’s success. “SWAC has worked in more than 200 primary schools and 30 high schools and is always fully booked,” he says.

“Approximately half of all the schools we visit at any one time are schools we have visited before, which illustrates the popularity of our programme.”

Working with both primary and secondary schools, SWAC tailors its activities for the age ranges it is dealing with to link into the national curriculum. For example, as part of the primary school programme, SWAC offers a lesson on paper making, which explores the importance of recycling and enables pupils to practically
experience the recycling process. This topic fits into various subjects such as geography and science.

Secondary schools often integrate recycling and waste management topics into their citizenship and geography programmes. While this age range
presents different challenges to primary schools,
Henderson says it is not necessarily the case that
they are more difficult.

“I have found that working with an eco-committee or school council on project- based work such as setting up a recycling system seems to work quite well,” he says.

“This empowers the students and gives them a sense of ownership and ensures that they are actively involved. To engage older pupils it has to be made relevant and topical.

“Overall, secondary schools are just as receptive but the programme has to be targeted in a different way to a primary school.

“For example, we have an Anytown Debate, which involves a real-life scenario in which students have to discuss how to deal with a town’s waste and come up with possible solutions. The key with secondary schools is to be flexible and build up a programme of activities that fits into their requirements.”

Although it is difficult to gauge whether students will continue to practice what they have learned, Henderson says the signs are encouraging. SWAC’s work with secondary schools has found that a large number of
students who have previously been involved in a waste education programme at their primary school are leading the demand for recycling in secondary schools.

However, the role of SWAC is not simply to go into schools and discuss how to implement recycling and waste minimisation, but to actually do it. As part of the programme, SWAC encourages all scho

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