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.

Swachhata Hi Seva- September 15, 2018

Towards the end of last week, we started to see signs posted around the ashram about an upcoming event planned by  Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event, Swachhata HI Seva, would be held from September 15 through October 2. It was timed to be near Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday and the 4th anniversary of Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to clean up India. To read Amma’s encouragement for everyone in India to participate in the clean up click here.

 

We soon learned that Swachhata Hi Seva would begin with a video conference where representatives from many different groups around India would report to Prime Minister Modi, and each other, about the clean up work they had done during the first four years of the campaign. They would also share their plans for Swachhata HI Seva.

Amma was to be one of the speakers. After the video conference, ashram residents and visitors, students from the local Amrita University and groups from Amma’s other institutions in the area would be cleaning up a six kilometer stretch of the coastal region near Amritapuri. Work parties would also be held at Amma’s schools, universities and institutions throughout India.

During the afternoon of the 14th, I glanced into the auditorium and saw lots activity. There were at least ten men setting up and testing cameras; I believed that they were from Amrita TV and surmised that this must be part of the video conference preparation. Later in the day, and throughout the night, chairs were set up in and around the auditorium, and the auditorium was decorated.

Seating began at 9:15 a.m. Amma arrived around 10:15.  Ashram residents and visitors as well as students from Amrita University and people from Amma’s other local institutions were present. I thought it was interesting to listen to the speakers; they represented so many groups dedicated to cleaning up India. Only a few of the presentations were in English but it didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed seeing and hearing the speakers’ passion for the campaign. The Prime Minister responded to each presentation.

Amma watched the video conference on a monitor that had been set up in front of her. The presentations were projected onto numerous larger screens so that everyone seated in the auditorium could watch… and hear…them.

Amma was the last speaker to present.

The first video below shows the Prime Minister introducing Amma. It also shows Amma giving her presentation. (The flags you see waving in the background on the photo above and in the video are Swachhata Hi Seva flags.) To read excerpts from Amma’s speech in English click here.

The second video is of Prime Minister Modi’s response to Amma’s report. There are English subtitles at the bottom of the screen throughout the video. The Prime Minister’s respect for Amma was palpable.

After the video conference was over, instructions to go to the beach to board buses were given over the loud speakers. There were so many people. Some of the female college students grabbed each others waists so that they wouldn’t get separated. I felt like joining them as a way to make it through the crowd, but I resisted the impulse. It has been a long time since I’ve been in the middle of a crowd that big.

I had originally thought about going to the beach and helping with the cleanup. I knew that I couldn’t do it for very long in that heat and the last time I did litter pick up without a litter grabber, I hurt my back and was out of commission for most of the  year. I thought I could help for 15 minutes though. When they started talking about buses, however, I assumed that going for a short time wasn’t going to be an option, so I headed for my flat.

Later, I learned that Amma had gone to the beach to help with the clean up before she started giving darshan that day. The couple that she was going to marry at the beginning of darshan helped too, in their wedding garments! I’m assuming that Amma was at the beach closest to the ashram, so that would have been an option for me too. Seeing the photos below reminded me of all the times Amma has joined in the ashram work. In the early days, I remember her carrying building construction materials, such as bricks and bags of gravel. She was, and is, SO strong.

More than 1600 people participated in that day’s 6 kilometer clean up!

(This has been the first of two posts about this event.)

The photos and videos came from Amritapuri.org.

Kick Butts Day 2018

On March 4, members of the GreenFriends Pacific Northwest Litter Project held a cigarette butt pick up  in the International District of Seattle. The event was in honor of Kick Butts Day, a day of national activism sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The actual day is later in the month, but since that day is mid-week we always hold our work party early. This is the seventh year we have supported Kick Butts Day in this way.

Twenty-one people participated in the butt pickup. We met at Hing Hay Park and then spread out throughout the District. Each person worked for 1-2 hours. At the end, we met back at the park to take a group photo.

Cigarette filters are NOT made of cotton, they are made of cellulose acetate tow, which is a form of plastic, and they can take decades to degrade. Investigators in a past San Diego State University study discovered that if you put fathead minnows and a single cigarette butt in a liter of water, half of the fish will die.

We take the attitude that every cigarette we pick up is one less that could end up being swallowed by a fish, bird or other form of wildlife. By sending them to TerraCycle to be recycled into plastic pallets, we will also keep them out of the landfill.

At the end of the work party, we put all of the butts we had collected into a bag. It was amazing to see how many we had picked up in such a short time.

When we weighed the bag later, we discovered that in two hours we had picked up 12.81 pounds of butts. That is approximately 12,810 cigarette filters. It had been another successful Kick Butts Day.

 

Thank you Ginny and Jyoti for taking photos.

 

One Piece at a Time

Nature on its own is indeed beautiful and clean. The hills and rivers do not need us to clean them. In fact, it is nature’s water which cleans us; it is trees which purify air for us. Because we have littered, we have spoilt its pristine beauty.                                                                                                               

~Amma

 I once read that every piece of plastic that ever existed still exists. While that statement has been challenged (politifact.com), there is no disputing the fact that plastics decompose very slowly and some may never decompose.

We have certainly seen evidence of the long life of plastic in the GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project that Seattle Satsang members are leading. The areas we are restoring have been covered by blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines for 30-60 years. With the aid of Green Seattle Partnership, the City of Seattle Parks Department, and volunteer groups such as students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science course, we are helping to return this stretch of Greenbelt to the beautiful forest it once was.

When the Seattle Parks Department staff initially cut down the blackberry vines for us, they discovered the foundation of a house that had burned down in the 1950’s. We found many plastic items in or near that foundation. It appears that a lot of plastic trash was also thrown into the Greenbelt by nearby residents and passersby.

My house borders this Greenbelt property. When I cleaned out my bird houses last winter, I found a sizable bird nest. I was shocked by the amount of plastic a bird had used in constructing it (Photo 1). Photo 2 shows the pile of plastic I removed when I took the nest apart.

My experience with the bird nest opened my eyes to all the plastic that was in our Greenbelt site. After than, anytime I walked through the property, I saw that the ground was littered with flecks of plastic. I worried about the toxicity of the plastic and also remembered a photo that I once had seen of the contents of the stomach of dead albatross at Midway Island. (See Photo 3.) I felt an urgency for us to remove as much plastic from the site as possible, before the birds could start using it for nesting material.

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Photo 3 – Photo Credit:Wikimedia

We invited Seattle Satsang’s Bala Kendra group (our spiritual community’s children’s group) to come pick up litter. Photos 4 and 5 show the litter they picked up in one hour’s time. In addition to this diverse pile of garbage, they removed many small flecks of plastic from the ground.

Much of the trash our volunteers have removed from the site during the past year has been plastic. While the items might be dirty, as you can see in Photos 6-13, many of them look basically the same as they did decades ago.

Yesterday, I picked up the remains of a pile of burlap bags that we use to cover the ground after we clear it. Under the pile I saw this:

Photo 14

I went back later and pulled out some of that trash so that I could photograph it. Photo 15 shows those items. There was rope, candy wrappers, a garden stake, line string for a trimmer/edger, a plant sign, carpet pad and assorted other kinds of plastic.

Photo 15

Today I remembered another piece of plastic I had recently seen. I went back to that place and began to pull the plastic bag out of the ground. Photo 16 and Photo 17 show what I uncovered. Often, when I pull out plastic, what emerges is even bigger than this!

I wonder if we will ever come to the end of the plastic trash on this site! Maybe not, but every piece someone removes helps reduce the negative impact that humans have had on nature in this space and gives nature a chance to restore itself to its pristine beauty.

Blatant Irony or Planting a Seed?

Today, an Amritapuri friend showed me this photo she took in Fort Kochi.

When she pointed out all of the litter behind the sign, I thought of how many times I have been picking up cigarette butts in Seattle and someone has stood watching me and then dropped the butt from the cigarette they were smoking on the ground right in front of me.

I like to think that if people see the trash bins in Ft. Kochi or watch others pick up cigarette butts in Seattle, it will plant a seed in their minds that will sprout sometime in the future. Perhaps at that time they will stop contributing to the litter problem. Perhaps they will even start picking up litter themselves!

A Different Experience, A Different Feeling

Soon after I was given the red rose yesterday, I had a completely different experience.  I was driving to an appointment along 25th Avenue South. That block, which is just north of my house, for the most part has Greenbelt on one side of the street and a fenced off property belonging to Sound Transit on the other side. The land goes over the light rail tunnel.

For as long as I can remember people have dumped their garbage along that street. The problem has decreased significantly, though, since city workers used big logs to block a place where people could pull off the street and dump their couches, mattresses, concrete and other unwanted items.

Yesterday, however, I saw something I had never seen before.  I decided on the way home from the appointment, I would stop and explore it further… and take photos. That is what I did.

This pile of dumped garbage covered the sidewalk and more than half of the width of the street.

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As I looked at it closer I noticed that there was a rope tied to one end of the pile.

I followed the cord with my eyes, and the reality of what had occurred began to dawn on me. The person who had done this had tied the other end of the cord to the corner of the fence. He/she must have been driving a truck and after backing up so that he/she could connect the junk to the fence, drove forward so that it poured onto the street. Needless to say, I was no longer feeling joy.

While I can see that this experience is an opportunity for me to notice how easily my emotions can be swayed, I am still shocked and angry that someone had this much disrespect and thoughtlessness.

Found in the Greenbelt

In the year that we have been doing forest restoration work in Seattle’s Greenbelt, we have found many interesting types of trash. During one of the work parties last week, a participant brought a much dirtier version of this bottle to me.

I thought it might be a decanter. I only had a vague idea of what a decanter was, but that was the word that came to my mind. I looked on the internet for photos of decanters from various decades, but didn’t see any that looked like this one.

When I showed the bottle to a neighbor later in the week, he pointed out that the top part didn’t belong to the bottom part. He thought the top was a cologne bottle, pointing out that it had a screw-on plastic top.

I felt embarrassed. I had noticed that the orange part was plastic when I cleaned the bottles but hadn’t thought about the implication of that fact. I wonder if the two parts were together when the work party participant found it. I believe they were, but I have no way to know for sure. Without the top, the bottle looks like this:

(By the way, the cork has decomposed enough that it is hollow.)

Here is a closeup of the top part of the bottle:

It is probably just a wine bottle but I’ve never seen one shaped like this. Have you? Do any of you have any idea how old it is? It could be current or it could be as far back as the 50’s.

Below are photos of some of the other trash we’ve found in the Greenbelt. We have also found more than 50 golf balls and three golf clubs! (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

You can learn more about this project by going to Greenbelt Restoration Project Update.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: July 16 and 23

I had scheduled four work parties for the month of July. I reported on the July 2nd and 9th events in earlier posts. When I broke my wrist on July 13th, it was obvious that I could not lead the last two, but other Green Seattle Partnership Forest Stewards stepped into that role. Ananya, a GreenFriends member and my fellow Forest Steward on this restoration project, led the first one. Ananya was not available on the 23rd so Susan, a Forest Steward who has been doing this work for more than a decade, led that one.

Even though I was not able to do the physical work, I was happy to discover that I could still contribute. I completed the pre-and-post work party administrative work, gave the initial orientation to the participants at the beginning of the events and helped with the snack breaks. As a result, I continued to feel like a part of the team.

July 16th

Five GreenFriends members, two students, and a neighbor participated in the work party on the 16th of July. They focused on picking up trash and dismantling the piles of debris that had been raked up during previous work parties. The debris was placed on burlap bags that had been spread earlier in July. They moved any blackberry root balls they found in the piles to the rack zone to dry. They also spread burlap bags over land that had been cleared in the past.

Trash

It is always interesting to see what kind of trash we find. At this work party, a student found a tube of lotion that had an expiration date of 1989. That student was born in 1997!

Sarva found this treasure:

Moving rootballs to the rack zone

Spreading debris on burlap (click on gallery to enlarge photos)

One of the highlights of this work party was that we turned in the certificate for the prize we had won at Rainier Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge2Beach Seattle clean up event in March. The certificate was for $50 of Full Tilt ice cream. Needless to say, we enjoyed that part of the work party.

July 23

The July work parties were scheduled in a way that would support the University of Washington Environmental Science students. Their volunteer hours and reports were due on July 27th so the July 23rd work party was in high demand. Twenty-one students and two of their friends, a neighbor and three GreenFriends members participated in this work party.

The participants were divided into various groups. One group carried burlap bags from an area near the street to our Greenbelt site. Other groups looked for and removed bindweed, i.e. morning glory vines; removed ivy; or dug out blackberry root balls. As various jobs were completed, participants continued the ongoing work of laying down burlap and covering it with debris.

Attendees of this work party had the opportunity to eat the rest of the Full Tilt ice cream!

It is amazing how much we accomplished during the month of July. Every work party was a confirmation of the saying, “Many hands make light work.”  And besides that, it was fun to work together.

These photos show some of the trash that was picked up during the four July work parties. I wonder if we will ever get to the end of it.

Everything we do takes us a step closer to planting trees, shrubs and groundcovers this fall. It also moves us towards restoring this land to the beautiful forest it was meant to be; one that will provide homes to birds, butterflies, bees and many other forms of wildlife.