What Happened to the Amritapuri Swachhata Hi Seva Trash?

In a recent post, I talked about  Swachhata Hi Seva, a cleanliness campaign that was initiated by India’s Prime MInister Narendra Modi.  On September 15th,  Amma’s Amritapuri ashram residents and visitors, as well as students from Amrita University, participated in Swachhata Hi Seva by cleaning up six kilometers of land in communities near the ashram. More than 1600 people, including Amma herself, participated in the clean-up.

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Photo credit: Amritapuri.org

I had never thought about what would be done with the trash that was picked up that day. In the West, we would have either dropped it off at some waste management facility or city employees would have picked it up. A few days after Swachhata Hi Seva, I started seeing notices from the ashram’s recycling depot asking for volunteers to help sort the litter. It was then that I remembered there was no infrastructure in India to deal with garbage (or at least none that I know of) and that all of the trash that had been collected during the ashram work party would have been brought back to the ashram. I decided to help for a while.

There were many processing tables set up on the beach, with approximately eight volunteers at each station. One bag after another was brought to us and the contents were dumped onto the table. This photo shows what the garbage looked like, although the items in many of the bags were dirtier. Some of the bags contained the biggest ants I’ve ever seen.

We sorted the trash and put the items into new bags. There were bags for hard objects, soft plastic, metal, shoes,  plastic bottles, glass bottles and fabric. I was impressed by how fast we were able to sort each bag and be ready to move on to the next one.

When the bags of sorted items were full, they were moved to a separate area.

Next, someone sewed the bags shut.

After the bags were sewn, they were moved to another pile.

The sorting had already been going on for days. I don’t know how many bags of litter had been brought back to the ashram after the work party, but this photo shows how many bags still needed to be processed when I left the recycling depot that afternoon. The original pile must have been huge.

When I left the beach, I felt happy that I had participated in the work. A day or so later, I started to think about the situation again. What was going to happen with all of those bags? The ashram has had a recycling program for many years and I knew the recycling companies they sell to wouldn’t take dirty garbage.

Before I go on, let me say something about the ashram’s recycling program. There are recycling stations all over the ashram. Residents and visitors separate their garbage into many different bins- hard items, soft plastic, yard waste, fabric, metal, dirt and hair, sanitary items such as toilet paper, cardboard, paper, food waste, and soiled plastic.

The garbage bins are picked up daily and taken to the recycling depot. Volunteers do a second sorting there. They move any items that were put in the wrong bin and separate recyclables from non-recyclables. After the second sorting is done, the yard and food waste is taken to the composting facility and objects that need to be washed are washed.

Then, an even more detailed sorting process occurs. For example, there are at least 10 types of recyclable paper and many types of plastic and metal.

The day after I worked with the trash, I found myself sitting next to the person who is charge of the recycling depot. She confirmed that the more in depth sorting will need to be done and that the recycled items will have to be cleaned before they can be turned in. The thought of doing that work, in addition to all the regular ashram recycling, has got to be overwhelming; I imagine it will take all year. Maybe the next time I’m in Amritapuri, I will help them again.

Food Waste: More Information to Ponder

https://livinglearningandlettinggo.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/1024px-gi_market_food_waste.jpg
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I included some food waste facts in my Challenge for Growth Prompt #10: Ending Food Waste post. Below you will find a quote from Gandhi, an abundance continuum from Jean I. Clarke, and some more relevant facts.

1)  Gandhi once said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

2)  Jean I. Clarke created an abundance continuum.  It looks like this:  “too little … enough …   abundance …  too much”

3)  “As of 2013, half of all food is wasted worldwide, according to the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME)”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_waste.

4)  “Food waste that goes to the landfill breaks down anaerobically and produces methane; methane is 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.” (Environmental Protection Agency) from End Food Waste Now

5)  “Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP)” End Food Waste Now

6)  “A single restaurant in the U.S. can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in a year, according to the Green Restaurant Association.” End Food Waste Now

7)  “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).” Food and Agriculture Organization

8)  “Hunger is still one of the most urgent development challenges, yet the world is producing more than enough food. Recovering just half of what is lost or wasted could feed the world alone.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

9)  “Around 100 million tonnes  in the EU. If nothing is done, food waste could rise to over 120 million tonnes by 2020.” Another source Reported: “Each year, 22 million tonnes of food is wasted in the European Union, according to a new study, of which 80 per cent is avoidable.”   (Both studies are reported.  I do not know how to account for the discrepancy in numbers.)

10)  “With an estimated 70 billion pounds (~32 million tons) of food waste in America each year, we must work together to capture more of this valuable resource for the nearly 48 million people in the United States who feel the effects of food insecurity.” Feeding America

Personal reflections:

Not wasting food has long been a value of mine but I am far from perfect about it.  It will be a life goal I think.

I am lucky to live in a city, Seattle, where recycling and composting of food and yard waste has been available for years.  Nowadays, if city residents put food or recyclables in their trash cans, they may be fined.  The city’s food and yard waste is sent to Cedar Groves where it is turned into garden compost.

I also compost some of my food waste in two worm bins.  One is a big outdoor wooden bin, and the other is a Worm Factory bin that can stay inside my house or on my back deck.  Vermi-composting creates high quality fertilizer.

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Worm composting

I LOVE MY WORMS!

Recycling and Composting in Amritapuri

Recycling station

Amma has made recycling and composting a major priority for the ashram. Every resident and visitor sorts their trash into separate bins labeled for paper, soft plastic, hard plastic, yard waste, food waste, sharps, sanitary, cloth, dust and hair. Last year there were 16 recycling stations, such as the one in the photo above, scattered throughout the ashram grounds. Since so many more flats have been built since then, I imagine the number of recycling stations have increased as well.

The yard and food waste from these bins plus the leftover food from the various kitchens and dining areas are taken to the composting center and the rest of the items go to the recycling center. Think about how much waste 5000-15,000 residents and visitors might produce in a day and you will get a sense of the scope of these projects.

Once the bins arrive at the recycling center they are re-sorted by volunteers. Items that were placed in the wrong bin are removed and put in the appropriate bin. Once that process is completed, the items are sorted for a third time, in a much more detailed way. For example, items in the paper bin are divided into 10 different subcategories.

The recycled items are sold and help to fund Amma’s humanitarian projects.

To learn more about the ashram’s recycling program go to: Recycling: A Model for the World

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The vermi-composting center is the small building on the left; the food and yard waste composting center is on the right.

The food and yard waste bins are taken to the composting center. The food is put on a metal table and volunteers take out any non-food items such as plastic bags, spoons, etc. Then large food items are cut. Next, items such as fresh cow dung from the ashram cows, egg shells, shredded yard waste as well as wood chips and sawdust from the carpentry shop are added to the food in order to increase the bacterial culture and nitrogen or to make the mix drier. Once the food waste has been processed, it is formed into piles. The piles are covered with more shredded wood and yard waste. As the food composts, the piles can become very hot. You can even see steam rising from them. Volunteers aerate the compost by turning it with pitchforks.  (This year I saw signs asking for volunteers to turn the compost at 2 a.m.!) The piles stay at the composting center for two to three weeks and then go to a farm or to the vermi-composting center to finish the composting process.

The yard waste is being processed at the same time as the food waste. The yard waste consists of materials that are gathered when the ashram grounds are swept each morning, along with other garden waste. The waste is put into a container that has a metal grate on the bottom. The grate allows the sand, pebbles and dust to fall through. Next, rocks, seeds, plastic and other items that shouldn’t be part of the compost are removed. What is left is the usable yard waste. That yard waste is then put into a shredder. Once shredded, it may be added directly into the food waste as described above, or it may be spread on the surface of the compost piles.

To see photos of this process go to: Food and Yard Waste Composting in Amritapuri, Pages 19-21

For years, the composting center has been located on the main ashram grounds. When I arrived at the ashram in November, I discovered it had moved. Now it is near Kuzhitura Farm, a 20 minute walk from the ashram. Pick-up trucks take the food and yard waste to the new center and the volunteers who work there generally ride bicycles.  The new center is about three times the size of the original one.

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The Red Worm Composting blog states that “Worm composting (also known as vermi-composting) involves the breakdown of organic wastes via the joint action of worms and microorganisms (although there are often other critters that lend a hand).”  That process creates some of the highest quality fertilizer that exists.  Red worms are the type of worms used for vermi-composting.

In the vermi-composting center, worm beds are formed from the food and yard waste compost.  When the beds are ready, the worms are then added to the piles.  Each day, a “slurpee” made from cow dung and water is poured on the top of the beds.  The worms rise to the surface and feast.  It takes about three months for the worms to turn the compost into fertilizer.

The ashram’s vermi-composting project moved to the Kuzhitura Farm location over a year ago.  When I visited the new center last year, there were eight to ten worm beds.  This year there were only the two shown below.  I asked one of the people in the food composting center about the change and he told me they had discovered they were using way too much bedding material for the number of worms they had.  Taking care of two big beds would certainly decrease the amount of time it took to maintain the beds!

There was another big change this year.  In the past, when the fertilized compost was ready, volunteers separated the worms from the compost by hand.  It took many volunteers and a lot of time to accomplish that process. (That was a job I loved to do!) The worms are now separated from the compost with a machine that is like a sifter.   There was no staff present when I visited so I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to anyone about it, but I did take some pictures of the sifter.

The fertilized compost produced at Amritapuri has always been dark in color and very light weight.  I’ve been jealous because it is so much nicer than what my vermi-composting system in Seattle produces.  One of the people from the food composting center showed me some of the compost that is created using the new shifting process.  It was even darker than it has been in the past…. and was so light-weight.  I hope to learn more about these changes the next time I visit Amritapuri.

 

Eclectic Corner: Perspective (Written Piece)

Perspective means different ways of seeing things.

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When some people see worms they get squeamish.  They wouldn’t even think holding them and letting them run through their fingers.

The picture above is of the worms in my vermicomposting bin.  I feed the worms and in turn they create fertilizer!  I love watching the worms.  I particularly enjoy it when the time comes to separate the worms from the fertilizer (the fertilizer goes to the garden and the worms go back into the vermicomposting bin) because I get to pick them up and feel them squiggle in my hand.

As I look at the vegetable plants that are growing in my garden now, I know the worms have played a significant role in making them so healthy. I feel immensely grateful that they are doing such an important service for me and for the earth.

Perspective can make such a difference.

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eclectic-corner-heat-medumWritten for Eclectic Corner: Perspective (Written Piece)

Banana Circles in Amritapuri, India

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When I visited Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India in December 2014/January 2015, I was fascinated by the banana circles that were located in one of the ashram gardens. Banana circles are a permaculture technique that is most often used in tropical and subtropical regions. They help create humus and water retention where soils are either sandy or heavy clay.

I found this description of banana circles:

“Papaya, banana and coconut circles are developed by digging pits up to two meters in diameter (for papaya and banana – 3 m for coconut) and approximately 1 meter deep. They are then filled with dampened, compacted organic material to a height of 1 meter above ground. Up to seven plants of the appropriate type are then grown on the rim of the pit. Taro or other moisture loving plants may be grown in the inside edge, as sweet potato along the outside edge to provide a living ground cover and mulch, as well as additional food production.”

Banana circles also are a way to compost organic materials, produce food, and utilize grey water. They are filled with microorganisms.

I learned something else in researching this topic. I always thought bananas grew on trees. It turns out that banana palms aren’t trees, they are plants. I was even more surprised when I read the following information from The Permaculture Research Institute:

Did you know that banana palms are actually a grass? Also, each plant only gives fruit once, so after you have cut the bunch of bananas down you can remove the whole plant at ground level. By this time, there should be new suckers coming up — only allow a couple of these to grow, as too many will make your bananas overcrowded and they won’t fruit well.

When I first looked at the banana palms in Amritapuri, I was astounded by how fast they grow. The first picture below was taken on the day the palm was planted. The second and third pictures are of banana palms three or four days after they were planted.

Here are some other pictures of the Amritapuri Banana Circles.

For more information:

http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/08/banana-circles/

http://www.homegrownediblegardens.com/banana-circlemulch-pit-guilds.html

http://www.mitra.biz/joomla/index.php/writingssustainability/3050-howtobananacircle

http://permaculturenews.org/2008/06/23/build-a-banana-circle/

https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/chapter-10-the-humid-tropics/banana-circle/

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Originally written for PNW Green Friends Newsletter, Issue 44, March 2015

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