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

  • It’s a Dirty Job, but Someone’s Gotta Do It!

    How Waste Characterization Studies Work

    Who wants to dig through anyone’s trash? Well, we do! Sort of ...

    In an ideal world we wouldn’t have waste, but as long as we do, we gather as much information as we can from the material Californians throw away. Every few years CalRecycle conducts a waste characterization study, which provides us with information about what goes to California landfills.

    How does it work?

    We contact waste management companies throughout California that are willing to participate in the study. A work station with labeled bins is set up at a transfer station, material recovery facility, or landfill. A load of trash, often in garbage bags, is spread onto a sorting table where our CalRecycle contractors pick through each piece of individual trash and places it in the designated bin. Once every piece of waste is sorted into its bin, the material in each bin is weighed and documented. Then another load of trash is placed on the sorting table, and the process starts all over again until the designated amount of waste is sorted.

    What do we do with the data?

    We collect all the data, write a report, and make the report public so anyone can visit our website and see exactly what California throws away. The data is used to inform waste management policies and laws. We also use it for our education and outreach programs.

    Why is this study important?

    Information is a good thing, especially when it is collected and analyzed in a scientific manner. We share our waste characterization data not only with the public, but also with lawmakers who propose and pass waste-management laws in California. California often leads the way when it comes to policy change in the United States. We use this data collected from the study to start positively affecting climate change and pollution. We can also find out how much food is being wasted to help prevent future waste while also creating programs to feed the hungry.

    Working at CalRecycle affords me the opportunity to participate in waste characterization studies—to an extent. I don’t pick through the trash, categorize it, or analyze the results, but I do get up close and personal by documenting the process in photos. I also get to use the statistics from the study to inform the public. Sure, I know it sounds glamorous, but there are some downsides. Not only is the smell sobering, but so are the mounds and mounds of wasted food— and that’s just one type of waste. There are many more! The good news is, conducting these studies can help us promote food recovery programs that can get edible food to the 1 in 5 Californians who are food-insecure.

    So the next time you toss that trash, just know we’re on the other side picking through it to find out what California wastes and how we can prevent it.

    Posted on In the Loop by TC Clark on Oct 18, 2018

  • Autumn: Prime time for backyard composting

    Summer has given way to autumn, and we’re pulling on our boots and clomping off to the coffee shop for pumpkin-spice lattes. And soon, my backyard tree will be dropping enough leaves to ramp up my suburban compost bin again.

    My city provides me with a “brown bin” that I can use for organic waste, so even when I’m not composting with my bin, my organic waste is not decomposing in a landfill somewhere and generating methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.

    But I enjoy playing weekend farmer in my little backyard, and my compost bin is magic: I toss in banana peels and coffee grounds, and I pull out a rich, nutritious soil amendment. And there are benefits to making my own compost rather than buying it at a garden supply store: I know exactly what’s in it, I don’t have to pay for it, and I don’t need to haul it home.

    At CalRecycle, we get pretty excited about composting, so we’ve got all sorts of resources for people who want to start composting, increase or improve their compost yield, or troubleshoot potential problems. The trick, I think, is to not get bogged down trying to figure out the perfect system. Just pick a bin that works for the space you have, and get started. You can fine-tune later. For all my worries, I have never seen a rodent around my bin, and I’ve never had a smelly bin. (Since my neighbors are very close by, I tend to keep my pile a little drier than optimal just to be on the safe side as far as odor goes. I pay for that caution with a slower composting process.)

    Be sure to check out CalRecycle’s backyard composting primer, complete with directions, explanations, and links to additional resources. Here’s a quick look at the process, which should reduce the intimidation factor and get you started:

    First, get a bin. (I love my stackable bin, but my city gives away a hoop bin to residents. Check with your city or local jurisdiction.) You can also build a bin. An optimal bin is about 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep, and 3 feet tall. Then, follow these steps:

    • Start with a layer of “brown” material such as dried leaves and twigs. This material provides carbon for the pile.
    • Add a layer of “green” material like coffee grounds, tea bags, and produce scraps. This provides nitrogen.
    • Mix it up with a shovel or pitchfork. (Or, “turn it,” as compost folks like to say.)
    • Add water until it’s the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
    • Top the pile with just enough “brown” material so no “green” material is exposed.
    • Give it another light watering.
    • Wait as long as you like. Days, weeks, whatever works for you.

    Then repeat. That’s all!

    Once the magic starts to happen and you discover your kitchen scraps have actually turned into a rich, moist soil amendment, you can decide how much effort and precision you’d like to put into your compost project. If you go for “gourmet” composting, you’ll get much more (and higher quality) material. If, like me, you stick with “casual” composting, you’ll still get enough to energize your spring veggies and ornamentals, plus more for mulching.

    If you don’t have the space for a composting bin, consider community-scale composting and get to know your neighbors. Whether you turn your own bin or work in a group plot, you’ll all have good “dirt” to share over your coffee drinks.

    Posted on In the Loop by Heather Jones on Sep 25, 2018

  • CalRecycle Director Talks Food Waste Prevention

    San Francisco hosted California’s first Global Climate Action Summit earlier this month, drawing governors, mayors, business executives, and leaders from around the world. In addition to new climate-focused pledges from governments and promises from companies, participants stood united to show how bold actions to combat climate change can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen economies, and provide models of success for others to follow.

    “A key premise of the conference was that if a handful of leading-edge states, cities and businesses can demonstrate that it’s feasible—and even lucrative—to go green in their own backyards, they might inspire others to follow suit. That, in turn, could make it easier for national leaders to act more forcefully.” —New York Times

    At an affiliate event titled “More Feast, Less Footprint: New Goals and Progress Towards Wasting Less Food,” panel discussions focused on efforts to reduce the estimated 1.4 billion tons of food wasted across the world every year. That’s roughly one-third of the global food supply.

    Left to right: Scott Smithline, CalReycle; John Dannan, Generate Capital;  Geeta Sethi, World Bank; Chris Cochran, ReFED.

    Left to right: Scott Smithline, CalReycle; John Dannan, Generate Capital;  Geeta Sethi, World Bank; Chris Cochran, ReFED.

    CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline joined representatives from ReFED, Generate Capital, and the World Bank for a discussion called “Financing the Change.” Smithline spoke about CalRecycle’s new Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program, which awarded $9.4 million to 31 projects earlier this year.

    The goals of the grant program include:

    • Decreasing the estimated 6 million tons of food waste landfilled in California each year, and
    • Increasing the state’s capacity to collect, transport, store, and distribute more food for the roughly 1 in 8 Californians who are food-insecure.

    When sent to landfills, food and other organic waste decomposes and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a heat-trapping effect at least 86 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span.

    “Bolstering California’s food recovery infrastructure will help feed communities in need, create new jobs, and result in significant greenhouse gas reductions,” Director Smithline said when the grant awards were announced. “Our hope is that these programs will inspire similar efforts throughout California.”

    CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities.

    During the “Financing the Change” discussion, Director Smithline also spoke of the importance of food waste prevention and rescue in achieving success in SB 1383, California’s new law to combat climate change by getting organic waste out of landfills. At 23 million tons, organics is by far the largest material type landfilled in California each year. SB 1383 mandates a 50 percent reduction in organic waste disposal by 2020 and a 75 percent reduction by 2025, as well as actions to redirect 20 percent of currently disposed, edible food to Californians in need.

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