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IELTS with Fiona Members Academy


‘reduce, re-use, recycle’

raw materials




hazardous waste

waste management/

waste collection





to dump rubbish



The Bike Foundry (GT Section 1 TFNG)

The topic of recycling bicycles comes up as a Listening below.

Reducing the effects of climate change

(Difficult Section 3: Completing a table, matching researchers and gapfill)

Keywords to review

– our dependence on fossil fuels

– CO2 is released into the atmosphere

– global warming is inevitable

– to cut back on carbon emissions

– according to its proponents

– to reverse/ slow down global warming/ the melting of the poles

– volcanic explosions

– we need to develop renewable energy

– the only permanent solution

– precipitation (= rainfall)

– we need to make carbon cuts

– human-induced climate change


Keywords to review
To domesticatedomesticitydomestic/domesticated
To constructconstructionconstructed
The environmentenvironmentally-friendly
To recyclerecyclingrecyclable (materials)
To store/convert energystorage/conversion
To generate electricitygenerationgenerating
To pollutepollution/a pollutantpolluting
To purify/filter waterpurificationpurified
To insulateinsulationinsulating (materials)
the national grid
To damagedamagedamaging (chemicals)
To harmharmharmful (to the environment)
To release carbon dioxidereleasereleased
Answers with tapescript

31 The owners of the underground house

B were interested in environmental issues

One of the interesting things about this project is that the owners – both professionals but not architects – wanted to be closely involved so they decided to manage the project themselves.

The chief aim was to create somewhere that was as environmentally-friendly as possible. 

But at the same time they wanted to live somewhere peaceful – they’d both grown up in a rural area and disliked urban life.


32 What does the speaker say about the site of the house?

A the land was quite cheap

So the first thing they did was to look for a site. And they found a disused stone quarry in a beautiful area. 

The price was relatively low, and they liked the idea of recycling the land, as it were. 

As it was, the quarry was an ugly blot on the landscape, and it wasn’t productive any long either.


  • Built in the earth, with two floors
  • The south-facing side was constructed of two layers of 33 glass

They consulted various architects and looked at a number of designs before finally deciding on one. It was a design for a sort of underground house, and it was built into the earth itself with two storeys. The north, east and west sides were set in the earth, and only the sloping, south-facing side was exposed to light. That was made of a double layer of very strong glass.

  • Photovoltaic tiles were attached
  • A layer of foam was used to improve the 34 insulation of the building

There were also photovoltaic tiles fixed to the top and bottom of this sloping wall. These are tiles that are designed to store energy from the sun. And the walls had a layer of foam around them too, to increase the insulation.

Special features

  • To increase the light, the building has many internal mirrors and 35 windows
  • In future the house may produce more 36 electricity than it needs
  • Recycled wood was used for the 37 floors  of the house
  • The system for processing domestic 38 waste is organic

Now what is of interest to us about this project is the features which make the building energy-efficient. Sunlight floods in through the glass wall, and to maximise it there are lots of mirrors and windows inside the house. That helps to spread the light around. So that’s the first thing – light is utilised as fully as possible.

In addition, the special tiles on the outside convert energy from the sun and generate some of the house’s electricity. In fact, it’s possible that in future the house may even generate an electricity surplus, and that the owners will be able to sell some to the national grid.

As well as that, wherever possible, recycled materials have been used. For example, the floors are made of reclaimed wood. And the owners haven’t bought a single item of new furniture – they just kept what they already had.

And then there’s the system for dealing with the waste produced in the house. This is dealt with organically – it’s purified by being filtered through reed beds which have been planted for that purpose in the garden. So the occupants of the house won’t pollute the land or use any damaging chemicals.

Environmental issues

  • The use of large quantities of 39 concrete in construction was environmentally harmful
  • But the house will have paid its ‘environmental debt’ within 40 15 years

It’s true that the actual construction of the house was harmful to the environment, mainly because they had to use massive amounts of concrete – one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide in manufacturing. And as you know, this is very damaging to the environment. In total, the house construction has released 70 tons of carbon dioxide into the air. Now that’s a frightening thought.

However, once the initial ‘debt’ has been cleared – and it’s been calculated that this will only take 15 years – the underground house won’t cost anything  environmentally I mean – because unlike ordinary houses, it is run in a way that is completely environmentally friendly.

Answers with tapescript (Bicycles Listening)

11 C  12 C  13 A 14 C  15 A 

16 £75000 17 computers 

18 C  19 E 20 F

11) In 1993 Dan Pearman went to Ecuador

C  as a voluntary worker.

My name’s Dan Pearman and I’d like to talk about the work of Pedal Power, a small charity based mainly in the UK. I’ll be giving our contact details at the end, if anyone would like to find out more about how to support us.

But first, how the charity began. I got the idea of exporting bicycles to developing countries while I was in Ecuador. I went there in 1993 just after graduating from university. After three years of studying, I wanted adventure. I loved travelling, so I decided to join a voluntary organisation and was sent to Ecuador to carry out land surveys. The project came to an end after five years and when I returned to the UK in 1998, I started planning Pedal Power.


12) Dan’s neighbour was successful in business because he

C  found it easy to reach customers.

Where I lived in Ecuador was a very rural area. My neighbour had the only bicycle in the village, whereas everyone else walked everywhere. My neighbour’s business was unusually successful, and for years I couldn’t understand why. Then I realised having a bike meant he could get where he wanted to go without much trouble. Other local carpenters could only accept jobs in a three-kilometre radius, so no matter how skilled they were, they could never do as many jobs as my neighbour.


13) Dan says the charity relies on

A  getting enough bicycles to send regularly.

At Pedal Power, we collect second-hand bikes in the UK and send them to some of the poorest regions in the world. When we distribute bikes overseas we don’t give them away for free. We’d like to, but long term that doesn’t really help the local economy. The demand for bikes is enormous, which makes them very expensive locally So we sell them for 5% of the normal price. But in order to continue operating we need to have a constant supply of bikes which we send out every six months.


14) What does Dan say about the town of Rivas?

C  Its economy has been totally transformed.

One example of a town that’s received bicycles from Pedal Power is Rivas. It was the first place I sent a full container of bicycles to. Most people there now own a bicycle. The local economy has developed so much, you wouldn’t recognise it as the same place. In fact, there are more bikes than on the streets of Amsterdam, if you’ve ever been there.


15) What problem did the charity face in August 2000?

A  It couldn’t meet its overheads.

B  It had to delay* sending the bikes.

C  It was criticised in the British media*.

But Pedal Power still needs your help. You may have read about some of our recent problems in the British media*. In August 2000, we simply ran out of money. We had containers of bikes ready to send, but no money to pay the bills. It was a terrible situation. We managed to ensure the bikes went out on time*, but the other problems carried on for several months.

*you can see the two ‘distractors’ clearly here.


Questions 16 and 17

16) How much money did the charity receive when it won an award? £75,000

17) What is the charity currently hoping to buy? computers


Fortunately in October 2001 we won an Enterprise Award which helped us enormously. We invested fifteen of the seventy-five-thousand-pound prize money to help secure our future. Winning the award helped raise our profile, and the money enabled us to pay all our shipping costs, which represent our greatest expense. Pedal Power changes lives – when someone gets a bicycle from us, they see a 14% increase in their income.

We’re currently looking to invest in computers so that our office staff can do an even better job. Because of our work, people in a number of countries now have a better standard of living – so far we’ve provided 46,000 people with bikes. But we’d like to send more, at least 50,000 by the end of the year.


Questions 18-20

Which THREE things can the general public do to help the charity Pedal Power?

C donate their unwanted tools

E hold an event to raise money

F identify areas that need bikes

Now there are many ways in which you can support the work of Pedal Power, not just by taking a bike to a collection in your area. I should also like to say if you do have a bike to donate, it doesn’t matter what condition it’s in – if we can’t repair it, we’ll strip it down for spare parts. Of course, to do that we always need tools, which are expensive to buy, so we welcome any that you can give. 

Also*, you could help by contacting the voluntary staff at our offices, they’ll be able to suggest activities you could organise to bring in funds for us. People do all kinds of things – including, of course, sponsored bike rides. 

Also*, we’re always interested to hear of other places that would benefit from receiving a consignment of bikes, and welcome suggestions from people who’ve been to developing regions on their travels. We hope that by talking on radio programmes like this, we will be able to raise public awareness, which will lead to government organisations also giving us regular financial support, something that we really need.

*notice the signal word ‘also’ telling you when the answer is coming



Make sure you have an answer ready for these Part 3 questions:

1. Why is it important to protect the natural environment?
2. What environmental problems are common in your country?
3. What can the government in your country do to deal with those problems?
4. What technological innovations should the world develop to protect the environment?
5. Do you think the youth these days care about the environment? Why?
6. Environmental problems are too big to be dealt at the individual level? Do you agree? Why/ Why not?



Electronic waste in Thailand (The Guardian news article)

Charging for waste collection (World Economic Forum video on Twitter)

How to reduce/recycle food waste (TedTalk)

Radical ways to change the earth’s climate (BBC News article)

Learning Link of the day:

Sketch Engine for Language Learning

Just put in a word e.g. ‘pollution’ and it gives you full sentences so you can see grammar, collocations and examples of how to use the word in the test.


Writing Practice

Academic Task 1

Click here for model answer

The diagram illustrates how rubbish from homes is used to create energy. Overall, the process is quite straightforward but there are several important stages to complete and a number of safety controls.

When the waste truck arrives at the plant, the waste is tipped into a bunker where it can be stored until it is needed. Eventually, the waste is collected picked up by a mechanical arm and thrown into in a furnace, where it is burnt. Steam and flue gases are given off, while ash is collected on a conveyor belt. Before the steam can be used, it must be treated in order to remove any nitrogen oxide. The steam is then separated from the flue gases and used to drive a turbine and generate electricity.The flue gases are also cleaned by removing pollutants such as mercury and acid gas.

Finally, clean gases and any remaining water vapour are released into the air. Unlike the steam, the ash is not useful, so it is sent by a conveyor belt to another truck and taken to a landfill site.

180 words

Task 2

1. ‘Some people claim that not enough of the waste from homes is recycled. They say that the only way to increase recycling is for governments to make it a legal requirement.’

To what extent do you think laws are needed to make people recycle more of their waste?

2. Why do people waste food? How can food waste be reduced?

Extra help: We did a Writing Feedback Webinar about this topic (click on the link below). Get the worksheet here.

Click here for model answers

1. Recycling

There is no doubt that the introduction of council-run schemes to encourage people to recycle their household waste has had a considerable impact on the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill every year. However, the lack of any kind of law enforcement related to this means that more could still be done. In my opinion, the only way to improve the situation is to introduce laws that will penalise excessive waste and ensure that the majority rather than the minority recycle as much as possible.

No-one wants to live in a ‘big brother’ state where their every move is monitored and controlled. However, when it comes to rubbish, something needs to change urgently. Local councils have made a huge effort to facilitate our attempts to recycle – in my area we are given free transparent bags and plastic boxes in order to separate the various recyclable materials, including food waste. But unless people are forced to do this, tonnes of household waste will still end up in black bin bags.

Having said that, I am not suggesting that these laws and punishments should be too severe, which could have an adverse effect and result in people ‘fly-tipping’ and dumping their rubbish illegally for fear of being fined. What I am suggesting is a more careful monitoring, perhaps by first giving warning notifications followed up by a home visit from an inspector who could advise on ways of making the weekly recycling chores less of an ordeal.

With an ever-increasing population and growing urban areas with a high density of people, something must be done to tackle the problem of waste, and this must start with individuals taking responsibility for what they throw away. New laws would encourage people to make more effort to minimise their waste and recycle it wherever possible.

(302 words)

2. Food waste

Food waste has been getting a lot of attention lately. The world produces far more food than it did 30 years ago, yet almost half of it is thrown away and huge amounts of perfectly edible food items are never eaten, while nearly a billion people still don’t have enough to eat. This has got to change.

First of all, let us look at the reasons why people throw away food. In the past, when food was scarce, people found innovative ways to preserve seasonal produce and use up leftovers. However, people in developed countries now have so much food that they can afford to let it go to waste. In addition to this, people have become overly-concerned with appearance, which means that fruit and vegetables that do not conform to a ‘perfect’ size, shape or colour are discarded before they even reach the supermarket shelves. Finally, supermarkets make the situation worse by confusing consumers with multiple descriptions for expiry dates, so many foodstuffs go to landfill unnecessarily.

There are many ways to solve this problem. Firstly as individuals we can make simple changes such as buying smaller quantities, planning our meals, making better use of the freezer, and using a compost bin or wormery in the garden. We can also put pressure on the supermarkets through our buying choices, for example by avoiding their bulk-buy deals and by campaigning for food which is fit for human consumption to be given away to charities and those in need. This consumer pressure has had some success in countries such as France where it is now illegal for supermarkets to send food to landfill sites.

To conclude, nobody wants to see good food go to waste. It harms our environment and is morally indefensible. We are not just wasting food that could end global hunger, but using up the planet’s resources in the process.  In my opinion, consumers need to make their feelings about waste reduction clearer. Enough consumer pressure will encourage supermarkets and the government to make it easier for everyone, from producers to retailers and shoppers, to make the changes necessary to reduce food waste.

Extra: Watch the webinar here

This was an early webinar we did in the Members Academy (sorry it doesn’t look very beautiful! Please click the small wheel icon in the bottem right hand corner and check it’s on 1080 for the highest quality).

In the webinar, I talk about how people can go wrong when they answer the question, and how to do research so that you have plenty of ideas.


Vocabulary Review


  • biodegradable: when a substance is able to be broken down by microorganisms into basic elements like carbon dioxide and water. (See ‘decompose.’)
  • bottle bill: a law requiring deposits on drink containers, like aluminium cans and plastic bottles. This law may keep people from littering and or filling up the landfills.
  • to bury waste: to put waste in beneath the earth’s surface – this should be deep enough so that it does not contaminate underground water.
  • composting: a process that allows you to decompose some of your table scraps and yard waste. This is done by a layering process so everything decays into fertile humus (or new soil).
  • to conserve: to protect something from becoming overused or lost all together. Conservation is the wise use of natural resources to avoid wasting naturally occurring resources or using them up completely.
  • decompose: to break down into component parts or basic elements; or to rot. Decomposition is an organic process necessary for the continuation of life since it creates essential nutrients that plants and animals need and use.
  • dump: an open unsanitary site for junk.
  • energy recovery: the creation of energy by burning solid waste materials.
  • fly-tipping:  illegally leaving things that you do not want next to a road, in fields, in rivers etc. 
  • garbage: spoiled or waste food that is thrown away. This does not include dry material or trash.
  • groundwater: water beneath the earth’s surface that fills the spaces and flows between soil particles and rock. Groundwater is what you find in wells and springs.
  • hazardous waste: poisonous waste that can cause problems for living organisms or the environment.
  • humus: organic material consisting of decayed vegetable matter. It provides nutrients for plants and allows soil to better hold water.
  • incineration: the destruction of something, especially waste material, by burning.
  • landfill: a site where solid waste burial is controlled and managed.
  • leachate: a liquid that comes from solid waste that may be contaminated. Some times leachate can contaminate ground or surface water.
  • litter: any waste material thrown or left in an inappropriate place. Littering is illegal in Wisconsin and there is a fine.
  • methane: a gas that is colourless, odorless, flammable, and potentially dangerous. It is formed when organic matter decomposes and can be used as a fuel.
  • natural resource: naturally occurring material such as soil, wood, air, water, oil or minerals. They are valuable to people, plants, and wildlife.
  • nonrenewable resource: a natural material that is considered finite in amount (e.g., coal, copper, petroleum). This is because it takes a great length of time to form (longer than a lifetime, maybe more).
  • organic: created from living organisms.
  • pollution: harmful substances left in the environment, leading to a dirty, impure or unhealthy place.
  • raw material: an unprocessed natural resource or product used in manufacturing.
  • recycle: collecting and reprocessing already manufactured materials for remanufacture either as the same thing or as part of a different product. (Taking a plastic bottle and turning it into a park bench or another bottle).
  • reduce: to lessen in amount, number or other quantity.
  • renewable resource: a natural resource that comes from an endless or repeating source like the: sun, wind, water, fish, trees, cotton.
  • reuse: to extend the life of an item by using it again, repairing it, modifying it or creating new uses for it.
  • solid waste: all solid, semi-solid, liquid and gaseous wastes, including trash, garbage, yard waste, ashes, industrial waste, construction waste, and household discards such as appliances, furniture and equipment.
  • solid waste management: the controlling, handling and disposal of all solid waste. One goal of solid waste management is to reduce waste to the least amount possible.
  • source reduction: a reduction in the amount and/or toxicity of waste entering the waste stream – also called waste prevention.
  • trash: material considered worthless, that is usually thrown away.
  • waste disposal Removing and destroying or storing damaged, used or other unwanted domestic, agricultural or industrial products and substances. Disposal includes burning, burial at landfill sites or at sea, and recycling.
  • worm casting (castings): Undigested materials, soil, and bacteria excreted by a worm. Basically worm manure.

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