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

  • Environmental Justice: Theory and Practice


    CalRecycle’s Education and the Environmental Initiative (EEI) curriculum defines environmental justice as “respecting and valuing every individual and community by conducting public health and environmental protection programs and policies in a way that promotes equity and fair treatment for all, regardless of race, age, culture, income, or geographic location.”

    In California, environmental justice issues are prevalent in rural and in urban communities. The state’s CalEnviroScreen tool helps decision makers, community leaders, and educators explore these issues in California. The tool maps multiple sources of pollution and pairs that information with population data to create a score that reflects environmental and public health issues in a particular area and the vulnerability of the people who live there.


    As an employee of CalRecycle and a graduate student in Urban Sustainability, I had the unique opportunity to develop an environmental justice project. I approached CalRecycle’s Office of Education and the Environment to seek out a fieldwork experience that proved to have many benefits: It offered me an opportunity to explore something I am passionate about, it satisfied my school credits, and it moved the needle in CalRecycle’s environmental justice efforts.

    This unfolded as a yearlong effort to explore the nexus between environmental justice and CalRecycle’s Education and Environment Initiative (EEI) curriculum. The EEI is a part of a statewide effort to increase environmental literacy among K-12 students by integrating key environmental concepts into the teaching of traditional science and history-social science standards. The curriculum is provided to California teachers free of charge, and various lessons can be used to address environmental justice issues in the classroom. 

    All students, whether or not they are from environmentally impacted communities, can benefit from developing environmental literacy and a foundational understanding of how environmental injustices occur and how they can be addressed and, ideally, prevented in the future. 

    One of the first outcomes of this project was an environmental justice teacher training for educators in Los Angeles. We highlighted an 11th-grade U.S. History-Social Science unit titled “The United States and Mexico: Working Together.” We conducted role-play activities to showcase how students can explore different perspectives of the same issues and empathize with others. An outline of this training can be found here:


    Another exciting outcome of this project was working with a group of students from an environmental justice organization in Los Angeles, Pacoima Beautiful

    This high school club of Pacoima Beautiful, Youth United Towards Environmental Protection (YUTEP), is led by Diego Ortiz and Jazmine Saucedo. Together, we crafted an environmental justice service-learning project that explored environmental justice issues in their community using CalEnviroScreen and the EEI curriculum as tools. The essential question was: How can we combat environmental justice issues within our community in order to keep people safe and healthy?

    YUTEP was trained to use the CalEnviroScreen tool as part of Cal/EPA’s Enforcement Initiative in Pacoima. You can read about the outcome of the initiative here

    Students used CalEnviroScreen to identify, research, and investigate issues such as illegal dumping, lack of green spaces, air pollution from diesel truck emissions, and Superfund sites in their community.

    EEI resources supported participants’ preparation and the reflection. The project culminated with a student-led environmental justice forum as the “action” to share with the community what they had learned and how they can address the issues the explored.


    The next step is to outline this project in a form that teachers can recreate in the classroom.  A group of teachers in Pacoima is embarking on an interdisciplinary environmental justice project modeled on the project.

    CalRecycle has embarked  on its environmental justice journey under the leadership of Maria Salinas. 

    “At its core, environmental justice is about equity,” Salinas said. “In California, the nation, and the world, low-income people and people of color are most impacted by pollution burdens.  Environmental justice is about improving these conditions for healthier communities.  At CalRecycle, we are continuing genuine efforts to work with disadvantaged communities and respond to their comments and concerns.  Correspondingly, we are making our programs, services, and decision making process more accessible by providing more information to the public and disadvantaged communities and translating materials when needed.  I call EJ ‘the civil rights of the environment.’ After all, the civil rights movement is about equal access to, and opportunities for, basic privileges and rights in America.  There is nothing more basic, important, and deserving than human health and the environment for everyone.”

    This project is about making sure all California students receive equal access to the curriculum.  It is also about educating our youth about environmental justice in order to help combat these injustices within our communities. It has been an honor exploring the intersection between environmental justice and the EEI curriculum, and I look forward to establishing CalRecycle’s role in educating our youth to create and sustain healthy communities. 

    Posted on In the Loop by Angela Vincent on Nov 17, 2016

  • Framework for the Future

    Education upgrade for California students  

    California just did something big. It didn’t get a lot of headlines, clicks, or television news coverage, but it will fundamentally transform the way we teach our 6.2 million students. The California Board of Education voted to include five key Environmental Principles and Concepts as part of the state’s new framework for how to teach History-Social Science standards.

    California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts, which state that we depend on, benefit from, and influence the earth’s natural systems, are the basic foundation for environmental literacy:

    • Principle I: People depend on natural systems.
    • Principle II: People influence natural systems.
    • Principle III: Natural systems change in ways that people benefit from and can influence.
    • Principle IV: There are no permanent or impermeable boundaries that prevent matter from flowing between systems.
    • Principle V: Decisions affecting resources and natural systems are complex and involve many factors.

    In the coming weeks, CalRecycle’s Office of Education and the Environment will continue working with the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission and nonprofit partners like Ten Strands to make sure these key concepts are included in the updated Next Generation Science Standards framework, which is set for final approval this fall.

    As a father, former teacher, and head of CalRecycle’s Office of Environmental Education, I’d like to explain how these principles and concepts will benefit our children and why formal environmental education is an asset to California and its students.

    For me, few things in life are more special than witnessing the moment a complex concept finally clicks in the mind of a child. By incorporating these fundamental truths into our educational framework, the environment becomes an integrating context for all sorts of learning. Students are immediately more engaged because the subject matter is more relevant to their lives. Instead of viewing the California Gold Rush as an isolated history lesson with dates, facts, and figures to memorize, teachers can help students think more holistically about a series of interconnected questions: What was the environmental impact of the 1849 population boom? Which natural resources did pioneers consume? How did hydraulic mining and water diversion help shape modern-day California?

    When we begin teaching and learning through this environmental lens, lessons in science and history-social science become grounded in real-world issues we’re confronting now about water, wildfires, and the impacts of climate change to California’s way of life. This important shift in thinking better prepares our students to become 21st century problem solvers who can make informed decisions as consumers, voters, entrepreneurs, teachers, and policy makers.

    CalRecycle is proud to see these Environmental Principles and Concepts integrated in the newly approved History-Social Science framework, and we look forward to their inclusion in the Science framework as well. By next year, we should begin seeing these changes reflected in early textbook drafts.

    The Office of Education and the Environment will continue to work with teachers across the state to support the implementation of these key concepts as part of their instruction. Together, we will help ensure all California students have access to the information, tools, and experiences to strengthen environmental literacy throughout the state.

    Bryan Ehlers

    Bryan Ehlers is CalRecycle’s assistant director for education and environmental affairs. He is responsible for overseeing implementation of California’s landmark Education and the Environment Initiative curriculum, including coordination with local, state, and federal agencies, and development of public-private partnerships.

    Posted on In the Loop by CalRecycle Staff on Sep 1, 2016