Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.

  • How Recycled Tires Can Save California Roads at Risk of Landslide

    Santa Barbara’s Ortega Ridge Road is no longer in danger of washing away thanks to 80,000 recycled waste tires. Like many paved pathways that curve and bend along with California’s rugged terrain, the ground beneath the road absorbed water in the rainy season - undermining its stability and causing the asphalt to crack, sink, and slide down the hillside. At one point, the road was reduced to just one safe lane.

    Now, thanks to an innovative new road repair technique, Ortega Ridge Road is stable, safe, and a model for what’s possible in areas prone to landslides.

     

     

    A First for California

    With grant assistance and technical guidance from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), Santa Barbara County rebuilt Ortega Ridge Road in 2019 using more than 80,000 recycled tires that were shredded and processed into Tire-Derived Aggregate (TDA). The highly permeable fill material allows water to drain through it (unlike conventional soil)– avoiding excess weight that often causes these types of roadways to wash away.

    The Ortega Ridge Road repair was the first infrastructure project in California to use TDA material in this type of civil engineering application.

    CalRecycle Funding Stopped the Cycle of Failure

    Santa Barbara County spent decades on this problem. “We were looking for a solution for this continually failing road,” says Chris Doolittle, an engineer geologist with Santa Barbara County. “It had been failing for 20 years at a minimum.” Over and over again, crews tried the more traditional repair technique of laying down new asphalt – one layer after another - only to watch the road degrade again.

    Picture of mountain landslide

    “We had a good relationship with CalRecycle and determined this site would be a really good candidate for a pilot project,” Doolittle recalls.

    In March of 2018, CalRecycle awarded Santa Barbara County $158,241 in funding from its Tire-Derived Aggregate Grant Program to purchase the recycled tire fill material. Armed with research from the University of California San Diego, which provided engineering data for the project design, CalRecycle worked alongside the county and engineering contractor GHD Services to design and construct a more eco-friendly and long-lasting repair on a 225-foot section of Ortega Ridge Road.

    Tire-derived aggregate, made from 810 tons of California waste tires, was used to backfill a retaining wall composed of large, rock-filled welded wire baskets (called gabions) to replace failed soil and provide lateral support to the reconstructed embankment. The repair resulted in a more permanent repair, saved the county permitting time, money for easements, construction costs and expensive road materials.

    Road workers using T D A to fix landslide

    “CalRecycle provided expert support,” notes CalRecycle senior waste management engineer William Heung. “As a result, public works was able to open a safe, stable roadway to the public more quickly and inexpensively than traditional methods, with the environmental benefit of reducing the number of used tires buried in landfills.”

    There’s an Award for That!

    The Ortega Ridge Road repair earned the 2020 Outstanding Local Streets and Road Repair Project award from the County Engineers Association of California (CEAC).

    Aerial view of TDA roadwork project

    “What we want is to see something that is out-of-the-box thinking and innovative,” explained CEAC President Rick Tippett, also the director of transportation for Trinity County. “What this award is intended to do is share success, so other agencies will take those ideas back to their communities.”

    Project leaders are hopeful a recognition like this will encourage other local cities and counties to consider the use of TDA and this groundbreaking engineering technique to improve local infrastructure and protect public safety. “We would like to see more of this type of project around the state,” says Heung. “It is a superior alternative material to other products out there and a great use for California’s scrap tires.”

    Longer Lasting Roads with Little Environmental Impact

    Using t d a on roadwork project

    Tire-Derived Aggregate is a smart, cost-effective way to repurpose some of the 51 million waste tires that Californians generate every year. Beneficial uses for this material include:

    • Lightweight, permeable backfill that’s lighter than gravel and more permeable than soil
    • A low-cost option to reduce train noise. When placed under tracks, TDA reduces the vibration and noise that is often a nuisance to those living nearby.
    • Retaining wall backfill, particularly in areas prone to landslides. Because of TDA’s lightweight properties, retaining walls can be designed using less reinforcing steel.
    • Landfill gas collection trenches. The high porosity of TDA makes it an excellent material for filling landfill gas collection trenches that transport methane, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide.

    CalRecycle’s Tire-Derived Aggregate Grant Program supports projects that use recycled waste tires in place of conventional construction materials for civil engineering applications such as retaining wall backfill, landslide stabilization, vibration mitigation, and various landfill uses. The unique engineering properties of shredded waste tires allow for free-draining, lightweight, and typically less expensive solutions for these types of projects.

    • Since 2011, CalRecycle has awarded $5,582,126 in TDA grants to 28 projects statewide.  
    • Grants are funded through a portion of the $1.75 fee consumers pay on each new tire purchased in California.
    • For more information about CalRecycle’s waste tire management grants, including application criteria and maximum award amounts, see our Tire Recycling, Cleanup, and Enforcement Grants webpage.
    • Get direct notifications about funding availability, applicant and project eligibility, and application due dates by joining CalRecycle’s Tire-Derived Aggregate listserv.
    Posted on In the Loop by Chris McSwain on Jul 20, 2020

  • CalRecycle—Uniquely Qualified for Disaster Recovery

     

    After a catastrophic wildfire, getting “back to normal” is nearly impossible for any single property owner to handle. A family’s ability to rebuild—and the livability of the neighborhood—depends on what the family next door does, as well as the family next to them.

    Todd Thalamer looking at debris removal project progress.

    Todd Thalhamer at the site of the 2007 Boles Fire in Weed, Siskiyou County.

     

    “Who wants to be the first house that’s developed, when you look out the window and all you see is nothing but ash and debris?” asks CalRecycle engineer Todd Thalhamer, the architect of a program that has cleaned up nearly 20,000 homes in the last decade. “When it comes right down to it, it’s a psychological issue—and a property value issue. If you clean up everything, you jump-start a community.”

    The Integrated Waste Management Board, which later morphed into CalRecycle, started the Consolidated Debris Removal Program in 2007 to clean up the aftermath of the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe. The majority of properties with affected homes drained into Angora Creek, which runs right into Lake Tahoe. This created an urgency to clean up debris before winter arrived and it washed into the famously clear and pristine lake. Crews were on the ground quickly. Firefighters extinguished most of the blaze by July 4. Ten days later, debris removal crews had the first home site cleared. The whole response effort was completed in three months.

    Safe Enough for Our Own Children

    From the beginning, this program balanced service to the homeowners, the community, and the environment. “At the time, I had a three-year-old,” Thalhamer recalled. “I’d tell the contractors, if it’s safe for my three-year-old to walk across this lot, then we know that a family is ready to rebuild.” Program staff have always valued this personal level of safety. This means cleaning up dangerous materials most homeowners don’t even realize lay in the ashes of their destroyed houses.

     

    wildfire debris

    After a wildfire, property owners need experts to identify toxicity in the rubble and ashes.

     

    A few of the invisible toxins common in residential burn scars include:

    • Heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, zinc, and lead, which is especially high in homes built before 1978.
    • Asbestos, which is present in most homes built before 1985 and in some newer homes as well.
    • Hazardous materials such as propane tanks, air conditioners, batteries, pesticides, and herbicides are common in most homes.

    For CalRecycle, the disaster debris removal program extends the department’s mission to ensure that California safely manages our materials—whether toxic and recyclable or not—to their best and highest use. It’s what the department does day in and day out. CalRecycle staff are experts in this. The debris removal program intensifies this effort in the service to communities recovering from tragedy.

    The Go-To Crew After Disasters

    In the years immediately following the 2007 Angora Fire, the debris removal team was only activated one time—for the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. But in 2014, the Boles Fire in Siskiyou County swept into a neighborhood in Weed destroying over a hundred homes, echoing the devastation seven years previously in South Lake Tahoe. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) called on CalRecycle to respond, and the team has worked almost continuously on cleaning up wildfire debris since then.

    Since 2014, CalRecycle has:

    • Overseen 20 major disaster projects
    • Removed 5.6 million tons of materials (65 percent from the 2019 clean up of the Camp Fire)
    • Performed disaster recovery for 16 different counties, from Los Angeles to the Oregon border
    • Cleaned and certified 17,297 properties as ready to rebuild in suburban neighborhoods, farms, mountain valley towns, scenic coastlines, and forested cabin areas.

    We’re On a Mission from Cal OES

    CalRecycle doesn’t take on these projects of its own volition. Cal OES must mission task CalRecycle before we can help. This can happen after Cal OES grants a request for assistance from a local jurisdiction in crisis. In fact, the only major incident in the past five years that CalRecycle didn’t mobilize to clean up was the 2017 North Bay fires, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers handled.

    For one key CalRecycle debris team member, the department has proven its expertise in clean up and managing the destroyed materials. “We’ve earned the confidence of others that we can handle projects this size with efficiency,” Alan Zamboanga said.

    Zamboanga, who served as the finance chief or contract manager on most of the projects since 2014, points out that CalRecycle continues to demonstrate operational and financial efficiency, including the massive 11,000-property Camp Fire debris recovery project. “Because of our expertise and knowledge, we are the go-to people when it comes to wildfire debris.”

     

    Angora Fire debris removal crew

    The 2007 Angora Fire Incident Management Team on the site of the last property cleaned.

     

    Posted on In the Loop by Chris McSwain on Feb 24, 2020

  • What I Learned Working on Disaster Debris Removal

    As debris and ashes are cleared away, animals return and new plants spring forth.

    It’s been a year of firsts for me. As the newest information officer in CalRecycle’s Office of Public Affairs, it’s my job to tell CalRecycle’s stories. But before joining the Office of Public Affairs team, I was the finance chief for the Camp Fire debris removal project. I’ll have a lifetime of stories to tell about my work on the Camp Fire—and the first is how this challenge was the best I’ve ever accepted.

    Last spring, I joined CalRecycle’s Wildfire Debris Removal team in Paradise, California. I had never been to Paradise, but I was very familiar with the Camp Fire. Like many Northern Californians, during November 2018, I had choked on the thick smoke from the country’s most devastating fire in a century. CalRecycle is often tasked with organizing, managing, implementing, and overseeing debris removal operations in support of local governments. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived to help oversee the project’s finances, but I found a dedicated team of cleanup crews that go the extra mile to help homeowners and communities recover.

    Here are a few things I learned while working at the Camp Fire debris removal project in Paradise. 

    Results Are Immediately Visible

    before, during, and after debris removal.

    CalRecycle transforms properties after a fire:
    From a disaster area riddled with invisible toxicity to a cleared property on which a family can rebuild their lives.

    Office denizens at CalRecycle go to work every day and have a sense that their work is making a difference, but it’s rare that they get to see it in real time. During debris removal operations, crews on the ground experience the immediate changes they make in the lives of community members.

    Residents saw everything they own destroyed. Our work gives them back a property that is certified and ready for rebuilding their new life. We give them a way forward.

    We Aren’t Alone

    Debris removal operations is more than just an interagency effort. In addition to the California Office of Emergency Services, nearly every CalEPA BDO had representatives that aided with the CalRecycle mission. CalTrans, CHP, California Fish and Wildlife, Department of Water Resources, local jurisdictions, and FEMA collaborated on the cleanup as well.

    There is also a critical public-private partnership with experienced contractors and consultants adding their expertise to the operation.

    While public-sector employees take the lead, we couldn’t finish the work without the added experience of technical experts from the private sector.

    At its peak in Butte County, thousands of people were working toward a single goal. Only about a hundred were state employees. 

    “Second Responders” Are Truly Heroic

    Debris removal crews hard at work.

    Even though the work is long and tiring, the cleanup crews never got jaded. Project managers take the time to recognize their efforts at weekly safety meetings, and it’s clear the crews care about helping Paradise recover. When asked to do so, debris removal crews sift through portions of ash looking for heirloom jewelry, or the remains of a vintage blacksmith shop, or anything left of a flower pot garden.

    Crew members go beyond just removing debris and have taken to heart the mission of helping people search for their lost treasures and rebuild their lives. 

    The Environment Is Fragile, yet Resilient

    Natural disasters leave a scar across the landscape, but if there is one thing that’s clear, it’s that plant life and wildlife bounce back more easily than homes and businesses. On an April visit to the Woolsey/Hills fire site in Los Angeles County, the super bloom was in full force, and it was nearly impossible to see the burn scar from the fire that happened just a few months before. In both Northern and Southern California, great care was taken to do no more damage to the environment.

    In addition to allowing homeowners to rebuild, CalRecycle’s mission for wildfire cleanup is to remove debris that threatens public health and the environment. This allows the region’s flora and fauna to recover more quickly. 

    It’s Worth It Because We Care

    Playground and home rebuilding

    Sometimes the days are long. Sometimes your own bed and your loved ones are just too far away. But knowing that the work you’re doing is necessary and matters, gets you up the next day.

    There is a shared mission across agencies and sectors. Whether one chooses to make a career out of disaster recovery or volunteers to support the mission on a temporary basis, the experience will positively affect how you see your work and impact on the world.

    Posted on In the Loop by Chris McSwain on Dec 30, 2019