Cee’s Black and White Photography Challenge: Vanishing Point

I created this image in 2014. My idea was to create a photo that showed that a seemingly endless number of toxic cigarette butts are tossed onto the ground as litter. To do that, I placed 1375 cigarette butts in a straight line on a sidewalk near my home. It worked!

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.

512px-albatross_at_midway_atoll_refuge_8080507529
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.

Repurposing Plastic Waste

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.

detail

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Repurpose

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

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