Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.
Every weekday morning, I walk up a stone pathway to the entrance of the CalEPA headquarters building. Like many CalEPA employees and visitors, I appreciate the natural landscape of the front courtyard space and occasionally sit outside on a stone bench under the redwood trees to eat my lunch. The courtyard is an area where tenants and visitors of the building can relax and enjoy California’s beautiful outdoors. Although I sensed the courtyard has an intentional design, I never gave it much thought until recently. I met with Property Manager Heidi Silveira and learned the landscape and artwork gracing the entrance to the building have significant meaning. The courtyard in front of the building reminds us of California’s many regions and our mission to protect public health and the environment. Take a tour with me.
As you face the front entrance, you will notice to the right a winding wall of tall dark gray stones that wrap around the daycare facility’s outdoor playground. Miners originally quarried these serpentine slabs in 1800 for use in the construction of the San Francisco Ferry Building. The Ferry Building architects found fault with the stones, rejected them from the project, and left them in a field where they aged until CalEPA’s architect, David Martin, discovered them and repurposed them here. Today, they symbolize California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Directly in front of the rock pillar mountains are medium-sized, round boulders that represent the foothills of California that rise up between the valleys and mountains.
A large, cream-colored walkway stretches down the middle of the courtyard from the I Street sidewalk to the building’s front doors. This walkway represents California’s fertile Central Valley. If you are standing on the second floor mezzanine and look out over the walkway, you’ll see the stones are laid in a pattern reminiscent of a bird’s eye view of California’s patchwork farmlands.
Just to the left of the valley are beds dotted with plants native to California. Currently, you will see several species of wild grasses growing in large tufts. The landscape changes over time as droughts come and go and plants spread seeds and sprout volunteers in new places. This beautiful courtyard landscape requires ongoing maintenance to keep it healthy and beautiful. This spring, landscapers are adding new plants along the edge of the redwood grove to reduce the amount of redwood needles that blow into the building’s lobby. The landscapers will also better define the pathways to the stone seats to protect the plant beds.
The grove of redwood trees remind us of California’s coastal range. A well-worn path guides you to small stone slabs nestled under the tree canopy. You may have noticed that the redwoods have a robust skirt of needles on the ground. Redwood needles are an ideal mulch for these majestic trees, and they help reduce water loss, regulate soil temperature, and prevent soil erosion.
Perhaps the most well-known feature of the CalEPA building’s courtyard is the large sculpture installation by artist Beverly Pepper. Pepper believed that protecting the environment is a sacred responsibility and built this “monolithic sculpture and configuration of the sculpture [to] invoke the figure of a sentinel as a monument to the sacred duty of protecting nature.”
Now when I walk to work, I look across the courtyard and remind myself that I am a small part of a big effort to safeguard California from pollution. I look up to the sentinels and remind myself I am an advocate for our natural resources and for environmental justice. From the mountains to the valleys to the coast and everywhere in between, the work we do is important.
You can read more about Pepper’s work and other art in our building on CalEPA’s Public Art webpage.Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on Jun 6, 2019
I finally decided to take the composting leap! If you’ve been following my yardwork journey, you know gardening is not exactly my strength. Over the years I have waged war against weeds, battled my backyard, and fought with flora. But, this year is different! In fact, I have already for the last time (fingers crossed) gutted my backyard and prepped it for mulching, added a small lawn for the dogs, and planted free SMUD shade twigs that will one day become beautiful shade trees.
At CalRecycle, we’re really big on composting because it reduces waste, fertilizes depleted soils, and helps prevent climate change. It’s a win-win-win! And, now that I am the guardian of a soon-to-be stunning landscape, I’m going to need to keep it healthy—that’s where the compost comes in. The following are different methods to create compost. Each is unique, but all are helpful to you and the environment.
A Heaping Helping of Compost
Well, it’s just that—a heap or pile. If you have a large backyard like I do, a heap might work for you. Just like all compost recipes, you’ll need carbon (brown material like leaves), nitrogen (like grass, coffee grounds, and fruit and veggie scraps), water, and oxygen (that’s where a pitchfork comes in handy). Piles are great if you have space, have an area away from direct sunlight, and don’t mind getting out in the yard to turn it periodically. However, if you’re concerned with the aesthetics of a heap of organics and have trouble working a pitchfork, a pile might not be the best option for you.
Bin There, Composted That
If you are bit of a neat-freak like me, compost bins are a good alternative to the traditional heap because they keep organic waste confined and nicely packed. Depending on which one you get, they can look kind of nice, too. Bins can also help prevent pests and retain much-needed ingredients like water and heat. However, you will need to get out there with your pitchfork and turn the pile regularly and keep it out of direct sunlight, just like you would with a compost heap.
Wiggle While You Work
Maybe I have an unhealthy obsession with worms or maybe most people just aren’t as cool as I am. Either way, no one can deny the positive health effects worms have on soil. They can also make composting stress-free. They like eating your organic waste and you like making it—it’s another win-win. There are a number of ways you can get worms to do your dirty work.
- Worm tubes
Worm tubes can be made using metal or PVC pipes, or you can use a small metal garbage can like our very own CalRecycler Lisa did. It works like this: You drill holes in a large pipe, bury the pipe, dump food waste in, and let the worms eat it and return the nutrients back to the surrounding soil via their ... um, castings, a.k.a. poo. Now, there is some debate about this method as regular everyday earthworms are not the same as vermicomposting worms which require different conditions, but there have also been some success stories.
- Worm tower/factory/bin
This requires a little space and not much maintenance. Similar to the worm tube, you put the organic waste in and let the worms do the work. But, because you’re working with living beings outside their natural setting, you do have to make sure their working conditions are habitable. That means, you can’t have these little guys outside in the dead of winter, or in the direct sun in the summer, or even in your stuffy garage. They do best in their bin under your kitchen sink inside your home. The good news is, they can consume about 5 to 8 pounds of waste a week, and this method is less time-consuming than a traditional compost pile, which can take months.
Let’s Get Ready to Tumble
Finally, we come to the compost tumbler. This is a good alternative to regular back-breaking aerating (OK, using a pitchfork isn’t really all that bad). You simply put your organic waste in the top of the tumbler and spin it like the ball tumbler at grandma’s bingo games. The tumbler keeps odors contained, keeps pests away, and makes it easy to rotate the materials. Tumblers should be treated similarly to other composting methods: Keep them out of direct sunlight, don’t overwater them, and use the same formula of 75 percent brown material to 25 percent green material you would with a traditional pile. However, don’t expect to see fresh compost any time soon—material does take a few months to break down with this method. People sometimes use dual-chamber tumblers so while one batch is cooking you can start a new one. Tumblers can also be kind of expensive, ranging from $60 to $400. If you’re handy, you can also make one and spend less money.
As for me, I’m still debating which method is the best for my yard, space, and lifestyle. I was very gung-ho about vermicomposting until I heard worm tubes were not as effective because of the different worm types. And unfortunately, I don’t have much room in my home for a worm bin/tower. I am currently leaning toward a tumbler because in all honesty, I’m too lazy to actually go out and turn a compost pile, especially in the middle of the summer. But, I can see myself taking 30 seconds to rotate the tumbler each time I add food scraps. And the tumblers contain food waste and odors, which will keep me and my neighbors happy—though pests won’t be. I invite you to come back for my next composting blog to find out which method(s) I settled on and how it’s working out.
Related reading:Posted on In the Loop by TC Clark on May 29, 2019
Despite what Kermit the Frog says, it’s actually easy to be green! Check out these five tips to up your recycling game and help the environment.
1. First, reduce waste with reusables. It’s much easier to manage waste that never enters the waste stream, so consider switching to reusable items whenever you can. Try mason jars for drinks and soup. Reusable straws are often available at coffee and smoothie shops. Don’t forget to invest in a straw brush to scrub out the insides.
2. Buy products with less packaging. CalRecycle estimates about 25 percent of our waste stream is packaging. If you can, buy items in bulk or opt for brands that use easier-to-recycle packaging materials (like cardboard strawberry containers instead of plastic clamshells). Also consider buying multiple items in one order when shopping online to reduce cardboard shipping box and padded envelope waste.
3. Recycle yard and food waste. Food waste accounts for 18 percent of our waste stream and can be recycled into beneficial products like compost and renewable natural gas. If you don’t have residential curbside organics collection service, you can look for a local community garden compost program. Many community gardens accept yard and food waste for their compost piles.
4. Understand what goes in your blue and green bins and avoid contaminants in each bin. There is no statewide, universal recycling program in California, so local guidelines will vary. If you add food waste to your green bin and your community doesn’t have a composting facility that accepts food waste, you may have inadvertently contaminated your yard waste bin. Check out your local jurisdiction website or that of your waste and recycling hauler to learn more about what to put in each bin. In general, you want to add clean, dry items to the blue bin. If you add a spaghetti sauce jar with no lid and sauce residue inside the container, the sauce can leak out and contaminate other items like paper, making them more difficult to recycle and possibly bound for the landfill.
5. Buy recycled-content products. The recycling economy depends on people buying products made with recycled content, which increases the demand for materials collected for recycling. When you’re out and about shopping, look for products made with recycled material.Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on May 23, 2019