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

  • My Environmental Justice Awakening

    How I Finally Got Woke at Work—and How You Can, Too

    Maybe you’re like me. Injustices like the bad water in Flint make your blood boil. Stories about poor communities boxed in by freeways have you suddenly mindful of every breath. You have a pretty good grasp on the concept of environmental justice, but you struggle to turn that awareness into action in your everyday work.

    I think I can help.

    Let me start by introducing you to Team EJ. I joined the volunteer group of CalRecycle staffers, supervisors, program managers, and deputy directors in November. Environmental Justice Program Manager Maria Salinas assembled the squad in hopes that members’ diverse backgrounds, strengths and perspectives would help CalRecycle better integrate environmental justice values and goals throughout the department’s divisions and programs.

    So far, the best definition I’ve heard for environmental justice came from Manuel Pastor during one of CalRecycle’s EJ training sessions. The USC professor says “EJ is rooted in the belief that all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or income—have the right to a clean and healthy environment.” He adds that environmental justice seeks two things:

    1. Equitable distribution of environmental burdens and benefits
    2. Fair and meaningful participation in decision-making processes

    The word equitable is key if you ask legislative analyst Julia Dolloff.

    “(It’s) about leveling the playing field when it comes to protecting the environment and protecting public health,” she says. “Whether it’s disproportionate pollution burdens or a lack of access to services, many of California’s communities aren’t starting from the same place and need additional resources to get them there.”

    1999 statute directed Cal EPA to conduct its programs, policies, and activities with consideration to environmental justice. While CalRecycle’s EJ program is a result of that direction, the department made a deliberate choice to go all in on EJ.

    A few clicks through CalEnviroScreen 3.0 and you’ll see why CalRecycle’s EJ efforts strive to go above and beyond. Steven Sander of CalRecycle’s Policy Development and Analysis Office says the data speaks for itself.

    According to Sander, research shows that in many instances, siting decisions for things like toxic waste facilities and power plants have disproportionately affected marginalized communities.

    “EJ needs to be there in every decision we make,” he says. “That’s not something you can necessarily legislate. It’s more of an ethos.”

    It goes back to that word—equitable. CalRecycle provides equal treatment to all Californians in its regulatory and oversight role. But as Waste Permitting Compliance and Mitigation chief Mark de Bie puts it, “fair treatment for all” may not always be fair.

    “We have that ethic, and we continue to have that ethic—and fair treatment for all can work to a certain level. But at some point you find that a strategy you could use in three-quarters of California to help inform and engage people might not work in a quarter of the state, so you need to try something else.”

    For Anthony Rodriguez, that starts with bridging the gap between government and the people we serve. In his role with CalRecycle’s Local Assistance and Market Development branch, Rodriguez acts as a liaison between the department and his assigned jurisdictions.

    “My job is to try to help the local people of my jurisdictions and give them a voice,” he says. Rodriguez joined Team EJ to ensure these perspectives are part of the larger conversation at CalRecycle.

    “During my conference calls and site visits, they can bring up environmental justice issues that I can then pass along to upper management.”

    Maybe you’re like Anthony—working directly with communities and can amplify their concerns.

    Maybe you’re more like Mark—a manager or office leader who can raise questions or launch initiatives to make environmental justice part of the ethos in your office.

    Maybe you’re like Julia and Steven—able to raise EJ issues in the writing you produce.

    Or maybe you’re like me—learning the issues, reflecting on your work, and slowly coming to realize that the pursuit of environmental justice requires a team effort.

     

    Posted on In the Loop by Lance Klug on Jun 21, 2018

  • Celebrating Earth Day and National Volunteer Month

    This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday, April 22. Californians throughout the state are gathering to celebrate the great outdoors with picnics, environmental fairs, and cleanup projects at state parks, beaches, and waterways. These events are a great way to celebrate both Earth Day and National Volunteer Month! Local governments and state parks often rely upon volunteers to help clean up public areas like beaches and picnic areas. Check out these events throughout the state, and don’t forget to bring your own bucket, gloves, sunscreen, water, and a snack.

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    In Los Angeles, Heal the Bay volunteers have cleaned up 1,194,587 plastic-related items, 614,205 smoking-related items, and 556,995 pieces of Styrofoam along the California coastline over the past 10 years. This year’s cleanup event is on April 21 in Santa Monica.

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    In Mission Viejo, volunteers will gather on Sunday, April 22, to plant drought-resistant trees and shrubs in their city and clean up litter along the way. The project starts at 8 a.m. and continues until lunchtime. At the same time, a Green Expo is being held on Mustang Run.

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    The 14th Annual Earth Day Celebration at Stinson Beach includes a beach cleanup and creek restoration. After the cleanup, you can celebrate Earth Day with music, dance, and art made from natural materials collected from the beach. 

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    Pacifica Beach hosts an impressive event on Saturday, April 21, that starts with beach cleanups from Daly City to Half Moon Bay and then transitions into an EcoFest at Linda Mar State Beach. Last year, more than 6,800 volunteers removed nearly 2 tons of trash, half a ton of recyclables, and 15,422 cigarette butts! 

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    On Saturday, April 28, you can volunteer at 16 different sites in Castro Valley. Projects include planting, weed abatement, trimming, mulch application, and litter cleanup. Ten schools are also participating in this effort to beautify the Castro Valley region. 

    Check out our Earth Day page of events to find an Earth Day celebration near you and look for ways to volunteer in the name of Mother Earth!

    Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on Apr 19, 2018

  • Celebrating Soil

    This is California Healthy Soils Week, and today is Food Waste and Compost Day. The thin layer of carbon, minerals and microorganisms known as soil provides the basis for life on this planet as we know it, so it is worth celebrating.

    Worldwide, cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 80 percent of their soil carbon. Carbon is the stuff that makes soil look rich and black. In California, we have agricultural soils with critically low soil carbon. Tilling exposes soil carbon to the air, allowing it to vaporize as carbon dioxide. Millions of tons of previously soil-based carbon have moved to the atmosphere, contributing to our global climate problem. Carbon in the soil feeds underground microbial life, a critical component of soil health. High-carbon, high-microbe soils grow healthy, resilient crops that need less water and fertilizer.

    Soil can absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air worldwide. Building soil carbon is possibly the most effective way to slow and even reverse a changing climate.

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    How do we build soil carbon? The fastest and easiest way is by using compost and mulch. The California compost community takes millions of tons of lawn trimmings and food waste annually and transforms these discards into valuable mulches and soil amendments. You can help by putting only clean, biodegradable organics in your “green” bin (if your waste management service provides one), and by purchasing compost and mulch for your yard. You can also compost at home.

    Compost contains about 22 percent carbon, and it also provides a diverse community of micro-organisms. Plants that grow in soil with a diverse and robust microbial life will be bigger and stronger, and will pull more carbon out of the air for photosynthesis. But plants do not use all of the carbon they sequester from the air. They pump some of it into the ground through their roots, attracting friendly soil organisms and growing the carbon pool again.

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    Once we understand the environmental power of soil, it makes sense to have a week to celebrate it. In 2015, we celebrated the International Year of the Soil … and 2016 was the International Year of the Pulses.

    A pulse is a legume that produces a dry grain, not a green vegetable. If you are experiencing dwindling yields in your backyard garden, consider using compost and planting a cover crop that includes pulses. A cover crop helps keep roots in the soil at all time, which feeds soil microorganisms. It also protects the soil surface from sun and erosion. When cover crops are cut down, the roots become part of the soil carbon pool. Legumes also take nitrogen out of the air (our atmosphere is about 78 percent nitrogen) and “fix” it into the soil. Some cover crops can fix as much as 200 pounds per acre of nitrogen into soil, helping to fuel next year’s crops.

    It’s time to give the soil the respect and protection it deserves. Compost, mulch, and cover crops are sustainable ways to build healthy soils and help prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at us next.

    Posted on In the Loop by Robert Horowitz on Dec 6, 2017