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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri: November 29-30, 2016

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Even though I’ve been coming to Amritapuri for 27 years, every day is still filled with new experiences and learnings.

Saraswati Gardens

On the evening of Nov. 28, a friend told me that she had found a garden in the ashram that she thought I would want to see. It is on the north side of the ashram, but is only a five-minute walk from the ashram’s center. The next day, I went to look. When I walked into the gate, I gasped. For me, it was like walking into heaven. (The photo on the top of this post is from that garden.) I will be writing many posts on this topic but here are some photos to wet your interest! (You can click on the gallery to see an enlarged version of the photos.)

I also saw the projects that are being done inside the Saraswati house. They have looms for weaving, a room for dying fabric, and a room for block painting. So many items are being produced here and then sold in the ashram stores and on Amma’s tours. All proceeds go towards Amma’s humanitarian projects.

I look forward to sharing more about the handmade items with you later.

Synchronicities

One of the things that I enjoy most about being in Amritapuri is how many synchronous events occur. So often when you need to find someone, your path crosses theirs a moment later.

Every year, there are people who I see constantly. Sometimes it feels like they are on the other side of every corner. Around 5,000 devotees live at Amma’s ashram and there usually hundreds to thousands of other people visiting each day, so constantly seeing the same people must be more than chance.

The people I have the “around every corner” experience with are usually individuals who end up becoing a major part of my trip. Starting on the first day of this visit, I’ve had that experience with three people. Two of them were in my Tai Chi class last year.  I have since discovered that the third person is responsible for organizing work in the Saraswati gardens!

I’m seeing a different person “around every corner ” now. She is a long-term friend, but I’ve never passed by her so often. It’s gotten to the point that we laugh every time we see each other.

Bhajans

At 6:30 each evening, we sing bhajans (devotional songs) for 1 ½ hours. Whenever Amma is away from the ashram, the women sing in the temple and the men sing in the auditorium. I have always felt drawn to the men’s music, but have stayed in the temple. Last year I observed there were increasing numbers of women sitting on the side of the auditorium during the evening bhajans. This year, I saw considerably more women sitting in the auditorium. In fact, I think there were as many women in the auditorium as men. Next, I noticed that most of the ashram’s elderly women were sitting in the auditorium. That is all I needed to see. I have joined them!

Fox Bat

One night on my way to bhajans, I saw a group of people looking up into a tree. It was dusk, but there was a man with a huge camera taking pictures. When I was close enough, I asked the photographer what was going on. He told me a fox bat was in the tree. He said that these bats are only seen seven days a year, during the short period that the figs are ripe.

When I researched “fox bat” on Wikipedia, I learned they are the largest bats in the world. They are also known as flying foxes or fruit bats. I didn’t take any photos but I found one on Pixabay.com.

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Recycling Center

I stopped by the recycling center the day after the floor had been changed from concrete to tile. I imagine the devotee’s feet will be very happy to no longer be sorting garbage standing on concrete.

I noticed that the cages of sick birds being nursed back to health are no longer located in that room. I wonder if they are in a different part of the center or have been moved to another location.

Behind the recycling center, I saw many nets full of recently washed milk bags drying in the sun.

Gardens in the central part of the ashram

I know I will be showing you photos of these gardens throughout the trip, but here are some pictures to start you off!

San Jose programs

We were able to see Amma conducting the Atma Puja on the last day of the San Jose programs via live feed. It was 7 p.m. in the evening there time, and 8:30 a.m. our time. That evening, we listened to Swamiji chanting the archana that occurs towards the end of each program. After the archana we watched as Amma gave darshan until the program ended. (Darshan- Amma gives her blessing through hugging each person that comes to her. At this point she has hugged 36 million people worldwide. We call that hugging process darshan.)

(When I first came to India I had to take a rickshaw to a town twenty minutes away to use a telephone. It sat on a table in the middle of an alley. A crowd gathered around to watch and listen as I made the call. I never would have dreamed that 27 years later, I would be watching Amma live from halfway across the world.

Lessons in patience

In my last post, I talked about receiving lessons in flexibility, equanimity and letting go. I will add patience to that list.

One of my favorite activities last year was doing Tai Chi. I have been very eager to start taking the daily Tai Chi classes again this year. Before I came, I knew that the main teacher, Dave, would probably not be coming this year, but I hoped that Stephanie, who is in teacher training with him, would be here. She was very instrumental in teaching our class last year so I know she is very skilled and dedicated.

Two days ago, I talked to a devotee who had seen Stephanie’s husband at the end of the European tour, so I knew she was indeed coming. Then yesterday, I was told she had arrived at the ashram, but I have not seen her yet. It is certainly an opportunity for me to practice patience.

I’m also having to try to find some patience within me in regards to the Wi-Fi hook up. It is so frustrating to have posts ready but not be able to publish them! There is no way to know when the company will send me a text saying I can activate it.

(You can tell by the fact I’m publishing now that I found another way to do it. That story will be in the next post!)

To read the rest of the posts in this series click here.

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.

 

Recycling: A Model for the World

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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”

Making Crocheted and Woven Items from Trash

In my young adult years, I loved to knit and crochet. I remember making blankets, sweaters and vests. Decades later I worked with a group of Amma devotees knitting and crocheting hats and scarves for Seattle’s homeless.  We also crocheted quilts for poor women who were moving from the street to transitional housing.

In 2007 or 2008, we started crocheting purses, hats, bags, and other items from materials that would normally be thrown into the garbage.  Some of the trash could also be woven into baskets.  By making crafts such as these, we could, in a small way, reduce the amount of garbage going into a landfill and polluting the earth.  Below you can see pictures of some of the items I made during that time.  (If you hover your cursor over a picture, you will be able to see what the item was made from.  If you click on any of the pictures, they will become a slide show.) Continue reading “Making Crocheted and Woven Items from Trash”