Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.
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 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.
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.”
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
Since 1974, the nonprofit organization California Resource Recovery Association has been working toward a more sustainable California through promoting product stewardship, waste prevention, and recycling. The group’s annual conference for which we are a sponsor, brings together cities, counties, councilmembers, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and industry professionals to network and discuss environmental issues. Every year, CalRecycle staff and guest speakers offer a cornucopia of information about policies, practices, and studies at comprehensive educational and plenary sessions.
At this year’s conference, we participated in four panels on topics ranging from e-waste and grants to statewide recycling to educate attendees about upcoming regulations, funding programs, and waste management practices. We even got to meet Ryan Hickman, the 10-year-old mini-mogul who has taken the recycling world by storm by starting his own business at the age of 3! Other speakers included Timothy Bouldry of the International Solid Waste Association, which runs a scholarship program for children living in dumpsites across the world; and Froilan Grate, who is the executive director of GAIA Philippines, which educates and promotes community-based waste management and construction of material recovery facilities.Posted on In the Loop by - TC Clark on Aug 22, 2019
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