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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
In Part 1 of this series, I showed photos of the bird houses in my back yard and the nests I found inside of them. I questioned why one of the nests almost filled the bird house. I also wondered why the big one had a flat top leaving no place for a nesting female and her eggs.
In Part 2, I relayed that readers had informed me that it was a wren who had built the big nest and I shared information I had learned about wrens since my first post. In addition, I wrote about what I found when I took that nest apart.
In Part 3, I will share microscopic photos of all ten of the nest’s components and then let you know why I still feel disturbed.
(Note 1: The numbers near the photos below correspond to the numbers at the top of this post. Note 2: You can click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
While I love the beauty the microscopic photos revealed, there was one material that greatly disturbed me. That was item #10, plastic. I was dismayed to see how much plastic was in the nest when I took it apart.
I know that birds, fish and other creatures can get sick if they eat plastic. Here is a photo that was taken of the contents of the stomach of a dead albatross at Midway Island.
I have to wonder if the fact that this wren’s nest had a top on it was because the bird was sick from eating plastic and its brain was not working correctly. There is no way to know.
I have been interested in crafting for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite projects was working with a group of Embracing the World volunteers to create beautiful bags and baskets by crocheting and weaving discarded grocery bags, strapping, newspaper wrappers, snack bags and other forms of waste.
Below are photos of some of the items I made during that time in my life. If you click on the gallery you will be able to see what each article was made from.
Here is a more detailed listing for one of the items.
Last Saturday, twelve of our local members of the PNW GreenFriends Litter Project met at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Our goal, to pick up as many cigarette butts as we could in an hour and a half. The Litter Project was formed in 2011. Most of our members come from the Pacific Northwest part of the United States, but we also have members from other parts of the U.S. and around the world.
When I started picking up litter, I thought that cigarette filters were harmless cotton and often passed them by in favor of the bigger pieces of litter. Soon I learned they were anything but harmless. They are made from cellulose acetate tow and they can take decades to degrade. Investigators in a San Diego State University study once discovered that if you put fathead minnows and top smelt in a liter of water that also contains a single cigarette butt, half of the fish will die. Continue reading “266,000 and More to Come!”
In 2006, a UN Environment Programme report estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. While I don’t know how much plastic is in the ground, I know that whenever I dig in the empty lot behind my house, I find plastic in every shovelful. I have lived in this house since 1973. Most of the plastic has been there longer than that.
In March, a friend helped me cut down and remove many of the blackberry vines in that area. Later, I cleared the remaining brush from one 36 square-foot section so that I could plant potatoes.
The pictures below show the trash I found when I made the holes for the potato starts. (I did not dig out the entire 36 square-foot area. These objects were found only in in the holes I dug.)
I took the first two photos when the garbage was still in the yard. The third was taken after I spread the trash out on my deck table, The fourth is what it looked like after I gave it a light washing. Notice how little decomposition there has been in the decades this trash has been in the ground.
Written for Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken
When I was in India recently, I used so many straws to drink coconut w to the world’s plastic garbage problem in my face. It also reminded me of a short article I wrote recently for one of our GreenFriends Newsletters. I am going to reprint that article here both to give you information and to remind myself of the importance of changing my behavior. Continue reading “Protecting Mother Nature From Straws”
There have been recycling efforts of one kind or another at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram since 1999. Over the years, the program has enlarged and become more refined. The Recycling Center moved to its current location in 2012 and is a model for all of India and the world. Continue reading “Recycling: A Model for the World”