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

  • Engaging Community to Achieve Environmental Justice

     

    Tom Steel with CalRecycle Acting Director Ken DaRosa and Environmental Justice Coordinator Maria Salinas

    Executive Fellow Tom Steel with Environmental Justice Manager Maria Salinas and Acting Director Ken DaRosa.

    Government employees know how to address environmental crises; but, unless we live in communities with contaminated drinking water, searing heat waves, and pollution-induced asthma attacks, we can never truly understand the lives shaped by environmental injustice. Lower-income populations experience greater pollution burdens because community members are often not involved in the government approval decision-making process of polluting facilities proposed for their neighborhoods. The reasons include:

    • Historical practices such as redlining mortgage practices that ensured entire neighborhoods only included a specific racial population
    • Lack of political clout or money to afford attorneys to speak up against industrial infrastructure locating near them

    Equity versus equality means helping disadvantaged communities with equal access to resources.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Health equity means that everyone has the opportunities and resources needed for optimal health and well-being,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrerhas commented. Environmental justice begins with having a say about the safety of the place you live.

    A sea of complicated questions awaits the community member who tries to address environmental injustice. How will a new or expanded compost facility impact local residents? How can members of the public use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires the disclosure of significant environmental effects of a proposed discretionary project? How can the online screening tool CalEnviroScreen, which identifies communities disproportionately burdened by pollution, help when the decision-making process includes a lack of transparency and inclusion of community members’ voices?

    Those with answers about how to address pollution issues can benefit from the perspective of people living in impacted communities. Those who live in these areas can learn about support, tools, and how to make their voices heard to protect their communities. In this nexus lies the potential to interact with communities and achieve environmental justice together.

    woman standing in front of truck with clipboard and group raking organic waste in yard.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    At CalRecycle’s environmental justice symposium “Planning for Justice,” at 1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA on Tuesday, February 11th at 10 AM, speakers will facilitate a discussion about best practices for prioritizing true community engagement for more equitable infrastructure planning. 

    We are honored to feature California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, as our introductory speaker. Secretary Blumenfeld oversees five boards and departments, as well as one office in CalEPA’s efforts to: 

    • Fight climate change
    • Protect air and water quality 
    • Regulate pesticides and toxic substances
    • Achieve the state’s recycling and waste reduction goals
    • Advance environmental justice

    The California Environmental Justice Alliance’s Policy and Political Director Katie Valenzuela will explain the relationship between government planning and environmental justice using local examples and identifying opportunities to improve community input related to the planning process. 

    Cesar Campos from CalEPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control will conduct a simulation of “real life” infrastructure planning with participants acting as city planners. Participants will understand how to effectively engage in the community development planning process.

    The best practices demonstrated in this symposium can prepare communities to increase knowledge, education, and transparency to further empower residents to access and actively participate in government development of community infrastructure. 

    When government employees and community members work together, we can create a more inclusive and environmentally equitable California for all. We look forward to seeing you there. 

    Posted on In the Loop by Tom Steel on Feb 6, 2020

  • Community Gardens–Providing More Than Food

    Research studies and personal experiences attest that community gardens provide environmental and social benefits in the face of environmental injustices. From mitigating climate change to increasing food access, community gardens positively impact lives.

    From reduced air quality to displacement after natural disasters, climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color. However, community gardens can process organic waste through onsite compost operations. Composting organic waste reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, by preventing organic waste decomposition in landfills.

    Community gardens make use of local organic waste, which helps reduce transportation emissions from diesel trucks taking organic waste to a large commercial facility. Reduced trucking not only mitigates climate change but also reduces local air pollution that contributes to higher levels of asthma and other serious health problems in environmental justice communities. 

    Composting also returns organic matter to the soil and supports the microorganisms that keep soils healthy. Since soils are a major carbon reservoir, maintaining healthy soils through compost and other methods is an important part of the multifaceted climate change mitigation strategy.

    Community gardens also increase access to fresh, healthy foods. Many environmental justice communities live in food deserts, where there is limited access to affordable and nutritious food. These gardens are a source of in-season, nourishing produce. They also provide educational opportunities for adults and children to understand how their food is grown and create a working space for community members to get out in nature, which promotes mental and emotional well-being. 

    Community garden in Pomona

    A community garden in Pomona, CA. Photo from Elinor Crescenzi

    Boston-based researchers who partner with the environmental justice nonprofit The Food Project published a research paper (Sharp and Brabander, 2017) that discusses the social benefits of community gardens in urban spaces. Not only does urban agriculture address food deserts and access to fresh, healthy food but it also empowers youth, creates an avenue for political organizing, and provides cultural preservation through growing culturally appropriate food in immigrant communities. 

    CalRecycle recognizes the important role of community gardens in environmental justice communities. That is why CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline announced the department’s new “Community Composting” grant program in March. The program will fund composting and related activities in community gardens that divert organic waste from landfills in environmental justice communities.

    The Environmental Justice Program at CalRecycle is also hosting a brown bag speaker series to elevate the ways in which environmental justice communities are impacted by and interact with the waste sector. The next brown bag event will feature Elinor Crescenzi, a community gardener, doctoral student, and social justice activist from Pomona. Elinor will describe the scientific research supporting the social, environmental, and health benefits of community gardens. She will also discuss the success and challenges of community gardens in Pomona, including organic waste processing capacity with on-site composting. Please join us this week in the Coastal Hearing Room on July 10 from noon to 1 p.m., or join us by webcast
    Posted on In the Loop by Ciaran Gallagher on Jul 8, 2019

  • Environmental Justice: Inclusive Decision-Making

    On the drive from Sacramento to Lamont through the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 99, we passed rows upon rows of produce and concrete jungles amid the visible air pollution haze. Last month I traveled with Team Environmental Justice member Julia Dolloff and Maria Salinas, CalRecycle’s Environmental Justice Manager to Lamont, a community just outside of Bakersfield. We were there to present to community members about CalRecycle’s Environmental Justice Program, SB 1383 regulations and the estimated 50 to 100 new large-scale organic waste facilities that will be built in the state as a result, and how to participate in the formal rulemaking process. Visiting an underrepresented community always accentuates the importance of our work to protect all Californians from environmental harm.

    This underlying principle is why the SB 1383 regulations have incorporated community input. For example, the draft regulations allow for the use of community composting operations in jurisdictions to help manage organic waste. In addition, when jurisdictions plan for their organic waste capacity, they must conduct community outreach for new or expanded facilities, seek feedback on benefits and impacts, and consult with community composting operations.

    In light of the impact implementing SB 1383  (Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016) will have on the state, staff recently created the Environmental Justice Compost Facilities Map, which overlays existing organics recycling facilities with CalEnviroScreen 3.0, a tool that identifies communities disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution. Identifying facility locations increases transparency and empowers communities to participate in the decision-making process with full knowledge of facility permits, inspections, and enforcement actions.

    Lamont community meeting with CalRecycle staff, Kern County employees, and community members, and Enviroscreen map

    Left: CalRecycle staff members, Kern County employees, and Lamont community members met to discuss environmental justice issues. Right: On CalEnviroScreen 3.0, Lamont is in the top third most burdened percentile and surrounded on all sides by the 90th percentile. Three facilities are located in the nearby vicinity. 

    The Lamont community meeting incorporated environmental justice community engagement best practices by holding the event in their community in the evening after typical work hours and providing interpretation services. Not everyone spoke English but with interpretive services, we were able to discuss their personal experiences with pollution, food waste, and waste collection services. For example, one community member noted that many Lamont residents speak different Spanish dialects, which makes it difficult for residents to understand even Spanish translated materials, but that graphic bin labels can transcend the language barrier.

    At the meeting, Gustavo Aguirre talked about his efforts to create a community benefits agreement with the nearby Recology composting facility. The agreement commits Recology to create an odor minimization plan, implement air pollution mitigation measures, and invest yearly in community benefiting projects. At our meeting, multiple people chimed in that this approach was successful for both Recology and their community.  

    Staff from Kern County’s local enforcement agency and other county government officials also attended the meeting. This allowed for a dialogue between the local officials and community members. One exciting moment was when a Kern County employee talked about the Waste Hunger Not Food pilot project. The pilot project implements the food rescue element of SB 1383 regulations by distributing edible, surplus food from restaurants, schools, and markets.

    This community meeting demonstrated the importance of information sharing and solution-building with all involved parties. The conversation was richer because there were representatives from the state, the county, and the community. Getting people historically and systematically disadvantaged in the room and at the table is what environmental justice seeks to accomplish.

    ---Ciaran Gallagher, CalRecycle Capital Fellow

    Posted on In the Loop by Ciaran Gallagher, CalRecycle Capital Fellow on May 6, 2019