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
CalRecycle’s greenhouse gas reduction grant and loan programs put Cap-and-Trade dollars to work for California by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening our economy, and improving public health and the environment—particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
Since 2014, CalRecycle has received $105 million from Cap-and-Trade funding. So far, funds have been funneled into three grant categories:
- Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program—$9.38 million
- Organics Grant Program—$72 million
- Recycled Fiber, Plastic, and Glass Grant Program—$14 million
You can read more about specific grant recipients and their efforts to help expand California’s recycling infrastructure in the “Putting Cap-and-Trade Dollars to Work for California” booklet.
CalRecycle receives Cap-and-Trade funds to help California meet two statewide objectives:
- Reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfills by 75 percent by 2020 (AB 341)
- Reduce the amount of organic material going to landfills by 75 percent by 2025 and recover at least 20 percent of disposed edible food by 2025 (SB 1383)
California will need to move about 20 million tons a year out of the disposal stream to meet these goals. Regarding 75 percent organics recycling – a statewide mandate – CalRecycle estimates that roughly 50 to 100 new and expanded organics recycling facilities, at a cost of approximately $2 billion to $3 billion in capital investment, are needed to handle this amount of material.
CalRecycle-funded organics recycling and digestion projects expand existing capacity or establish new facilities to reduce the amount of California-generated green materials and/or alternative daily cover sent to landfills. Landfilling of organics generates methane, a GHG about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year horizon.
Food Waste Prevention and Rescue projects (often run by food banks and food pantries) keep edible food out of landfills by reducing the amount of food waste that is generated or rescuing edible food from the waste stream.
Recycled Fiber, Plastic, and Glass projects build or expand infrastructure for manufacturing products with recycled fiber (paper, textiles, carpet, or wood), plastic, or glass.
Together, these programs are expanding the necessary infrastructure for California to manage our waste responsibly. As an added bonus, they also happen to be among the most cost-effective GHG grant programs in the state!Posted on In the Loop by Christina Files on Oct 8, 2018
Creative solutions key to success for state’s landmark new climate law
CalRecycle has long had a cooperative relationship with BioCycle, which focuses on organics recycling and publishes a magazine, hosts a website, and sponsors industry conferences. This year’s BioCycle West Coast 18 Conference was held last week, and CalRecycle Chief Deputy Director Ken DaRosa was the keynote speaker. CalRecycle provided the lead article for the magazine edition that focuses on the conference. The following is an abridged version of the full article.
The effects of global climate change are now upon us. It’s threatening lives, impacting our economy, and jeopardizing future generations. The question is now, what are we doing about it?
In California, slowing and eventually reversing the effects of climate change demands a collaborative effort to transform the state’s waste and recycling sector. It demands nothing short of an organics revolution.
Fortunately, that revolution is underway.
In 2016, Governor Edmund G. Brown signed legislation (Senate Bill 1383, Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016) that targets reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane. The law directs CalRecycle to adopt regulations and requirements to achieve a 50 percent reduction in organic waste disposal by 2020 and a 75 percent reduction by 2025. The law further requires that 20 percent of the amount of edible food currently disposed be recovered for human consumption by 2025. By calling for a significant reduction in the current levels of organics disposal, this law signals a definitive shift in California’s approach to organic waste management.
Right now, California recycles roughly 10 million tons of organic waste each year through composting, chip and grind, biomass energy, and anaerobic digestion facilities. California’s existing organics recycling infrastructure consists of 179 composting facilities (of which 50 handle nearly all of the green waste and food waste sent to composting), 162 chip-and-grind operations, approximately 20 biomass conversion facilities, and 15 anaerobic digestion facilities. At full capacity, these facilities could process perhaps an additional 1 million tons of organic material per year.
To achieve the targets outlined in SB 1383, California must recycle at least 20 million tons of organic waste. Depending on facility size, CalRecycle estimates the state will need 50 to 100 new or expanded composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. The roughly $2 billion capital infrastructure investment required to meet SB 1383 goals is significant, but California is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge. Our businesses innovate, our industries adapt, and our local communities find solutions.
Community Support, Local Siting, and Permitting
It’s important to remember compost operations and anaerobic digestion facilities are located in real communities, where people live. While smart regulations will be instrumental to achieving California’s organic waste and methane emissions reduction targets, the success of SB 1383 also hinges on support from our local communities. There’s no question these organics recycling infrastructure projects help diversify our local economies and create durable green jobs that can’t be outsourced.
At the same time, communities have legitimate concerns about having such facilities as neighbors, among them increased traffic and road wear and potential odor issues. To that end, SB 1383 regulations must require that cities, counties, project proponents, and local enforcement agencies conduct community outreach when new projects are proposed, particularly in disadvantaged communities, to hear local concerns and discuss mitigation of potentially negative effects.
Food Waste Prevention and Food Rescue
Achieving the edible food waste reduction targets outlined in SB 1383 will not only help reduce methane emissions from organic waste disposal, but food rescue has the added benefit of feeding Californians in need. Food waste alone accounts for roughly 18 percent of total landfill disposal (5 to 6 million tons) each year.
CalRecycle must work with local leaders and organizations to identify points in the food distribution chain where edible food is disposed and figure out ways to recover that food for the roughly 1 in 8 Californians who are food insecure.
In 2018, CalRecycle awarded $9.4 million in Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grants to 31 projects throughout the state that:
- Decrease the estimated 6 million tons of food waste landfilled in California each year, and
- Increase the state’s capacity to collect, transport, store, and distribute more food to Californians in need.
The organic waste reduction and edible food recovery targets California has established in SB 1383 are bold and historic next steps. Like most achievements, we know progress in this effort must be built locally and from the ground up. Through a shared commitment from the public, the waste and recycling industry, local governments, and the state, we can show the world—once again—how California’s core values of environmental protection, public health and safety, and economic vitality can not only coexist, but collectively bolster California’s next revolution in sustainable waste management.Posted on In the Loop by CalRecycle Staff on Apr 2, 2018