6 Recycling Resolutions that Make a Big Impact

New year, new you?! In case you haven’t noticed (we barely did), January is almost over and it’s about time for those New Year’s resolutions to either kick into gear or to be kicked to the curb. Either way, we’re not judging! We want to help provide solutions. If you’re not happy with how your current resolutions are panning out, we don’t think it’s too late to come up with new ones – ones we KNOW you’ll keep because they’re easy, they’ll help the environment AND they’ll help you!

All you have to do is… recycle! That’s it. Many of you probably already recycle, right? And you probably already know what common items you can and can’t recycle. Here’s a quick reminder:

    • You CAN recycle: • paper/ cardboard • aluminum • glass bottles, food containers or jars • hard plastic containers and bottles
    • You CAN’T recycle: • plastic shopping bags • polystyrene foam cups or containers • wax paper • food or liquid soiled items

But, what about all those miscellaneous items that you’re not sure about? The odds and ends that wind up in your garbage or on your curb where you hope someone will pick it up and take it off your hands? Guess what! Many of those you can recycle as well! Here’s a list of items you probably didn’t know you could recycle and how to do so:

    • CDs/DVDs: Since the age of CDs and DVDs is coming to an end, many people need an environmentally friendly way to get rid of them! Check out this link to find out how: cdrecyclingcenter.org.
    • Eyeglasses: You can get rid of your old glasses and help a good cause at the same time! Send your glasses here: new-eyes.org and they’ll be sent to those who need them in a developing nation.
    • Mattresses: You’ve got a few options here! If you’re buying a new mattress, find out if the store where you’re purchasing it will recycle your old one for you. You can also see if your local recycling program or Goodwill or Salvation Army does bulk waste collection.
    • Oil filters: If you change your own oil and filter, they can and should be recycled! Most service stations or auto shops will accept them as well as Household Hazardous Waste Centers. Use this link to find a place near you: calrecycle.ca.gov/UsedOil/Filters.
    • Paint: Enter your address at this link: paintcare.org to find a location where you can recycle paint! You can also learn about greener paint options and how to make stored paint last longer before you have to get rid of it.
    • Mercury-added thermostats: As one of our own projects, in 2017, SGA helped the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) increase mercury-added thermostat recycling in California by about 20%! Through our outreach efforts to consumers, wholesalers, Household Hazardous Waste Centers, school districts, property managers, and many more audiences, we have been able to collect these toxic items and dispose of them in a responsible, safe way! For a limited time, If you have a mercury thermostat, your local utility company is promoting TRC’s $5 rebate for recycling it! Follow this link: recyclehomethermostats.org/california for the rebate form and to find a drop-off location near you.

Now, next time someone asks how your New Year’s resolution is going, you’ll be able to tell them how you’re succeeding, not only for yourself but for the environment as well!

Why Volunteering is Good for the Soul, Community, and World

Make it attractive, make it meaningful, and make it worthwhile. According to The Guardian, these are the main factors that motivate a person to volunteer. While the behavioral science behind volunteering isn’t comprehensive, there is some consensus on a few common threads:

    1. The experience needs to provide learning for the volunteer,
    2. It needs to be convenient for the volunteer,
    3. It needs to include a social aspect, and
    4. The volunteer needs to be able to see the impact they are making.

How do you feel about these factors? Do you agree? Would they motivate you to volunteer? Do you already volunteer? SGA posed these same questions to our staff in order to understand the nitty-gritty of why people volunteer.  We specifically turned to a remote SGAer, Sara, who recently returned from a 2-month trip volunteering in Paraguay with Para La Tierra (For the Earth) studying howler monkey populations and conservation. Read about her journey; why she went, the difficulties she faced, and why it was all worth it!

Why was this experience attractive to you?
Other than wanting to spend two months living in the jungle, I wanted to volunteer for Para La Tierra because I am extremely passionate about wildlife conservation. I have always looked up to scientists like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey and I’ve always wanted to be able to do what they did, as their work has had huge implications for wildlife and environmental conservation. This was the perfect opportunity for me to help make a significant contribution in the field. Knowing that my work there could truly help the conservation efforts in Paraguay was a huge motivator for me to go.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?
Although there were some barriers that could have prevented me from going and some hardships while I was in Paraguay, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was fortunate to have.
A couple of the barriers I faced were: 1) Danger – there are many potential threats when traveling to South America as a young woman on my own, to a place where I didn’t know anyone, and had never been. 2) Time off of work – not many places will allow you to take a 2-month vacation! Luckily, I have an amazing boss and job at SGA, that understands the value in volunteering and helping the environment.
A few of the hardships I encountered were: 1) Getting lost – one day I ended up lost in the forest by myself with a dying GPS, surrounded by swamps that I could not cross. Luckily, I made it out, no thanks to my poor sense of direction! 2) Hunger – where we were staying, we had to cook and carry all of our food with us for the entire time we were there. This meant we had to be very conservative with what we ate.

How was this experience meaningful to you?
I believe that giving to organizations whose work you are passionate about is important – whether it is through time or money. There are so many organizations that carry out meaningful work; I wanted to be able to contribute to this.
Some of the best parts of volunteering were: 1) Living in nature – it was a healing, restorative experience to be totally immersed in a natural environment. Most of the time, we lived a simple lifestyle, with little access to Wi-Fi or technology. 2) The friendships I cultivated – spending 24 hours a day around the same people, we all got to know each other very well, very fast. I got to work with people who shared the same love and passion for the environment and wildlife as me. 3) Experiencing a different culture – Paraguayan and South American culture is very different from the lifestyle we live in the United States. It was humbling to live there and has helped me to live more sustainably.
This experience was incredibly difficult much of the time, but it changed my life in many ways. I feel that what I was doing made an impact. Additionally, the whole experience helped me to grow as a person and I feel extremely accomplished in having completed this endeavor. I feel like if I could do this, I could do almost anything!

While  Sara’s experience didn’t hit all four common threads, we did learn (in Sara’s case at least) that sometimes volunteering doesn’t need to be convenient if the motivators outweigh the barriers. Our desire to make a positive impact on the world, in an area we sincerely care about, can be enough! The overall takeaway here is that people volunteer for causes they are passionate about, when they can see themselves truly making a difference, and when the experience is fun! So what are you waiting for?  Volunteer today and make a difference!

Say…Engagement! Let the Photos Do the Talking


How many of you constantly take photos of your family members and pets, or an exquisitely prepared meal, or a stunning sunset? Many of us at here SGA admit to having taken more than one photo like this. As visual creatures, humans are drawn to photos more than words. That is why photographs are the most-read parts of any publication. In terms of community engagement, using visuals like photographs can generate broad interest and increase awareness. Text-only documents or materials often fall into the TLDR group – “too long, didn’t read.” SGA recently held a photo contest to promote stormwater issues for the Orange County Stormwater Program. “Plants, Camera, Action!” was the theme and showcasing residents’ California friendly plants and landscapes was the goal. Here’s a summary of how we did it and the results we achieved. And of course… lots of photos!

First, why? Because stormwater pollution is a pressing issue.
Stormwater pollution is especially important in California due to many residents’ close proximity to rivers, bays and the ocean. When it rains, the water that washes off streets or driveways picks up trash and other pollutants on its way to storm drains. It then flows directly into these bodies of water with little to no treatment! This affects both the health of our planet AND the health of you, your family, your friends, even your pets!

So what does this have to do with SGA’s “Plants, Camera, Action!” photo contest?!

Well, planting and maintaining a native California plant landscape throughout your yard can help mitigate stormwater pollution. California native plants tend to be more drought resistant than non-natives, requiring you to water less. Less watering (and less overwatering) reduces the amount of water going into storm drains and therefore reduces the amount of trash and pollutants going into our local bodies of water!

Second, how? Promotion, promotion, promotion.
We promoted the contest via Facebook, our website and the OC Register, hoping to give all Orange County residents a chance to see and enter the contest.

Three awards were given:
Most beautiful photo of a California friendly landscape award
Most beautiful photo of a California friendly plant award
People’s Favorite award

Third, who? Orange County Residents with California Friendly plant gardens.
There were 137 entries from residents all over Orange County, ranging from La Habra to Irvine to Aliso Viejo. Check out the rest of the entries here and maybe you too, will be inspired to make beautiful California friendly changes in your own yard!

And the winners are….




Most beautiful photo of a California friendly landscape award: Nina, San Juan Capistrano









Most beautiful photo of a California friendly plant award: Tommy, Laguna Hills











People’s Favorite award: Donna, Huntington Beach





Read About One SGA Staff’s Approach to Zero Waste

Remember the last time you said you were going to start a new diet, go to the gym, or eat healthier? (To be honest, we make those pledges at least once a week too!) While the intentions are great, for many of us, taking those first steps is hard to do. But once we force ourselves to get over the initial hurdles, it is a little easier to adapt to the diet every day until eventually, they become routine. Well, the same can be said for adopting pro-environmental behaviors. The more you do it, the more it becomes ingrained.

To help people understand the process of becoming more environmentally friendly, one SGA staff member has documented her first steps in reducing her carbon footprint and embracing a zero-waste lifestyle.  As a vegetarian, Carolina Gonzalez (Project Manager) has always felt a kinship with nature and environmental issues. Adopting a zero-waste mentality was a natural progression. Zero-waste is about reducing what we need/consume and reusing as much as possible in an effort to reduce what we send to landfills.

“Having moved nine times in the last eight years, I’ve definitely seen the freedom that comes with owning fewer things. Now, I’m beginning the challenge of creating less waste in the world as well,” Carolina says.

One of the tenets of going zero-waste is to reduce the amount of waste entering the home in the first place. So how is Carolina accomplishing this? With a little planning, she has reduced the amount of waste she brings in every time she shops or goes out to eat. Instead of simply telling you how she has been doing this, we are going to go shopping with Carolina so she can show you how to practice zero-waste tactics in your own life.


PRE-SHOPPING: Choose a Grocery Store That Has a Bulk Item Section
Some chain grocery stores have them, but these will more often than not be small, private or local companies.

PRE-SHOPPING: Don’t Leave Home Without Reusable Bags and Storage Containers
Just before Carolina heads out to the grocery store, she does a quick check for: her shopping list, small reusable cloth bags and glass containers for food items, and larger grocery/ tote bags to transport everything.
“I prefer cloth bags, but you can use any reusable bag. Glass containers are good because store employees can tare the glass container easily before items are placed inside.”

Why use cloth bags? Because plastic and paper bags use a lot of energy to produce. Unfortunately, many paper bags are made from trees, not recycled paper, while plastic bags are made from byproducts of oil or natural gas. Not to mention, many cities these days have ordinances that make you pay for paper or plastic bags. Some people choose to reuse their paper or plastic bags, but these can only last for so long before they have to be thrown out, so your best option is to try to avoid them in the first place!

What about the glass containers? According to Carolina, glass containers are best used for items in the deli section like sandwich meat, olives or cheese as well as for bulk section items like peanut butter, honey, sugar or flour.

DURING SHOPPING: Shop for Loose Items That You Can Weigh and Measure on Your Own
Once at the store, Carolina buys almost everything in the bulk and fresh produce sections. She puts it all in the cloth bags she brings or leaves her fruits and vegetables loose.
“I used to be intimidated by the bulk section, but now it’s where I do most of my shopping. It’s amazing the variety you can find there (who knew there were so many types of sugar and salt?).”

DURING SHOPPING: Avoid Small Items of Trash That Can Accumulate While Shopping
Carolina avoids using ANY extra paper or plastic when shopping if she doesn’t have to. She keeps her shopping list on her phone and refuses a receipt whenever possible. She never uses zip ties provided by stores to tie up her bags of food and she avoids using price identification stickers.
“Just keep the bags in order so you know what’s what, and take pictures of the items code to tell the cashier (so you don’t have to use tags!).”

DURING SHOPPING: Prioritize Recyclable Containers
If Carolina can’t find something she needs in the bulk or fresh produce section, she tries to buy items in more environmentally friendly containers such glass (rather than plastic or cans) or cardboard (rather than Styrofoam). Glass is a better choice because you can re-purpose it for many other uses (i.e. holding other food items, hip drinking glasses, trendy home-made terrariums) AND it has the smallest carbon footprint compared to plastic and aluminum. That’s a big win!

POST SHOPPING: Make Sure That You Never Forget Your Reusable Bags or Glass Containers Again!
Admit it. We’ve all done it. Carolina’s done it. Gone into the grocery store only to realize that you’ve left your reusable bags at home. Hitting yourself in the head as you try to stuff as many items as you can into your pockets and hands before giving in and having to use the store bags. Or you bravely insist you can carry it all and walk out of the store with 10 items balanced in your arms.

How to avoid this? The solution is easy! 1) Include a reminder in your grocery list, 2) Keep these items by your door or in your car, 3) Embarrass yourself into remembering – if you forget once, don’t allow yourself to use the store bags, force yourself to carry all your groceries out by hand (multiple trips if necessary) and you will never forget again!
“Trial and error is a huge part of the process.”

POST SHOPPING: Be Prepared When You Go Out to Eat As Well
Grocery shopping makes Carolina hungry. Sometimes she can’t wait to get home to make something! If you also like to grab a bite to eat after you’ve hit the shops (or ever, really), make sure to be prepared. Take your own re-usable items and refuse unnecessary waste such as plastic straws and napkins.
“I carry bamboo utensils and a cloth napkin in my purse in case I’m going to a place that uses disposable utensils. I’ll also bring my own to-go container for food when I know there will be leftovers – like Chinese food.”

A few more helpful tips from Carolina:
“Reusing and conserving is not the social norm so I’ve found myself having to put myself out of my comfort zone to stick to my zero-waste goals.”
“Facebook groups can connect you with people and resources that are local to you. I’ve been able to connect with people with similar interests and it’s been amazing to see what others are doing, too.”
“What helps is to remember that even the small things I’m doing, if I do them for the next forty years, it’ll make a huge difference.”

How Does SGA Love the Ocean? Let Us Count the Waves!

When it comes to promoting environmental awareness, it turns out, we are not oceans apart. On May 25th, SGA, in conjunction with LA City Sanitation, helped prepare and organize the 24th annual Kids Ocean Day Adopt-A-Beach Clean Up at Dockweiler State Beach. The theme for this year’s beach clean up was “Come Together for the Ocean” and that’s what 4,000 Los Angeles students, teachers, and volunteers did.

So was it worth the weeks of preparation and planning, the exhausting day of organizing kids, teachers and volunteers, and the day-long promotion on social and traditional media?  The answer is unequivocally YES!

“I love participating in Kids Ocean Day. Seeing the smiles on the kids when they first get out of the bus really makes it all worthwhile. Those smiles remind me why we do what we do: to protect our environment and create a better place for generations to come,” Carolina Gonzalez, SGA Project Manager.

It was an incredible feat, but in the end, teaching school kids about the adverse impacts of pollution to the oceans and watersheds made it all worth it.  Students apply what they have learned in the classroom by using the beach clean up as a powerful and actionable step towards a healthier environment. The collected trash reduces the amount of non-biodegradable materials entering the oceans.

“Kids Ocean Day is one of my favorite events all year. After studying about ocean and water pollution in school, these kids get to take action about it, while seeing others join together to do it too. For some of these kids, it’s their first time at the beach. It’s great when kids get to see that what they’re learning in the classroom is relevant to the world outside of their school grounds and that they can make a positive change by taking an action as simple as picking up a piece of trash,” Angie Lee, Senior Outreach Specialist.

Education is an essential part of environmental stewardship. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from the environment, it is important to make a real investment in hands-on environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown that environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue careers in environmental and natural resources. This event gives us the opportunity to  communicate the importance of responsible environmental governance to those who will be doing the governing long into the future.

3 Steps to Pedal Forward and Make Positive Change

May 19th is Bike to Work Day!  At SGA, we believe that bicycling is a great way to demonstrate behavior change. Remember when you were a kid and you first learned how to ride a bike?  At first, you were scared: Don’t let me fall!  Of course, you fell.  But then you got back up because you were motivated: Learn to ride a bike by yourself.  This whole process involved removing barriers, while promoting motivators. In essence, the steps needed to change behavior.

So how do you remove barriers to get people to bike more or to get them to change? Here are three wheely good ways to overcome barriers:

1) Remove the perceived danger of riding by making the experience positive. A short bike ride can:

  • Break down old perceptions: hard and scary
  • Create new perceptions: easy and fun

2) To overcome resistance, start with baby steps. Overcoming one small step of the task is easier than tackling the whole task at one time.

3) Make bicycling a social norm. Get beginners to team up with other bike riders.  If they are the only person riding, it feels odd, but if they see more people doing it, the more normal it becomes.

While it’s important to overcome barriers, it’s also crucial to promote the motivators. We asked SGA staff what their motivations were to bike to work. Here’s what they said:

“I love riding my bike to work. I ride to work to help create a friendly biking culture in Long Beach. Our city has this big goal of being named as the most bike-friendly city in America. It’s up to us to make this dream happen.”  Joy Contreras

“Biking to work makes me feel good, charges me with positivity, and allows me to enjoy the outside. I also want to show my daughter that cars aren’t the only way of transportation, especially for short distances.” Anya Liddiard

“I ride to get one less car off the road and a little bit less carbon going into the air. I ride 10 miles each way which gives me time to clear my mind and gets in my daily exercise in one fell swoop.”  Stephen Groner

Changing behavior isn’t easy, but it can be done.  Remember, change is like riding a bicycle. Hard at first, but easier as you practice.

Learn How Effective Messaging Can Shape Pro-Environmental Behaviors

What messaging do you think works better: “Help save the environment,” or “Join your fellow citizens in helping to save the environment?” If your answer was the second choice, then you’re in agreement with research that shows specific messages — the right specific messages — are much more likely than abstract messages to shape behavior.   At SGA, crafting the right messaging is what we do.  Whether it’s recycling or water conservation, we have a good understanding of the psychological drivers of pro-environmental behavior.

In celebration of World Parks Week, we want to share our approach on how to establish positive environmental behavior changes as social norms in protecting one of our most cherished national treasures: parks.  While we encourage more people to visit parks or appreciate nature more, we want them to do so in an environmentally-friendly manner.  How can this be achieved?  By making environmentally-conscious behavior a social norm.  From our years of experience, we have learned how to harness the power of social norms and social motives to encourage behavior change.  When people are figuring out what to do in a new situation, they take their cues from what seems to be other people’s normal behavior — the social norm. Thus, messages that say, “Everybody’s doing it!” to promote conservation-minded actions tend to be most effective.

Norms can be injunctive (i.e. most people approve of taking steps to protect parks) or descriptive (i.e. most people take steps to save parks). Our experience has shown that creating a social norm works best when injunctive norms are aligned with descriptive norms (most people both approve of this behavior and actually do this behavior). To apply this principle to protecting our parks, instead of saying “Stay on trail,” we would make it a social norm and say, “Join the many who have stayed on the trail to help protect the park and natural vegetation.” Even a slight variation in wording can shape behavior powerfully. That’s why crafting the right messaging is important.

So the next time you want to want to encourage behavior change, think about adopting the power of social norms into your messaging.  Given the urgency of conserving natural resources, this approach can help all interested parties, public and private, to more effectively promote pro-environmental behaviors.

Learn How Renewable and Raw Materials Like Hemp Can Save the Earth

Let’s start by saying SGA hasn’t been watching a Cheech and Chong marathon and no, we don’t have the munchies.  With Earth Day just around the corner, we wanted to bring awareness to the many ways that hemp can help save the environment.

Unfortunately, hemp gets lumped in with its notorious cousin, marijuana (Cannabis sativa). The truth is that while hemp is derived from the same family of plants as marijuana, it comes from Cannabis sativa L strains that contain less than 1% THC, meaning hemp carries no psychoactive properties.

Over the years, a hemp revival has taken shape. Perceptions have shifted, especially among business owners, farmers, nutritionists, activists, and green consumers. As a renewable and raw material, hemp can be incorporated into many products, making them more eco-friendly. Even the hemp flowers and seeds can be used, leaving nothing to waste. Here are more reasons why hemp’s environmentally-friendly characteristics make it a sustainable wonder crop.

  • It’s a farmer’s best friend. Not only does hemp grow in a variety of climates and soil types, it doesn’t require a lot of space and its fast growth rate produces high yields. Because the crop improves soil health, no fallow period is needed to grow food crops.
  • It’s an environmentalist’s best friend. The hemp plant grows like a “weed” so there is no need for most pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides (it is naturally resistant to most pests). Hemp also thrives on less water than most crops and has also been proven to remove toxins, radioactive materials, and metals from contaminated soil. When planted around the infamous nuclear disaster site Chernobyl, scientists found that hemp conducted phytoremediation, which is the process of removing the chemicals from soil, better than any other plant.
  • It can compete with cotton. Hemp has been used as a durable fabric since time immemorial. As a textile, hemp needs approximately half as much land and half as much water as cotton does to thrive. Cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities. It can take 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt.
  • It’s a superfood. Hemp seeds are used in a variety of health foods, including hemp seed butters, hemp seed energy bars, hemp oil, and even hemp seed milks. The seeds have a nutty flavor and are regarded as a superfood since they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are a complete protein.
  • It could save the trees. Hemp pulp has been used to create paper for at least 2,000 years. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper, and even the finest Bible paper today remains hemp-based.

So this Earth Day, don’t let our environment go up in smoke…switch to a renewable product that will help save the environment, leaving a cleaner and greener planet for the next generation.

Save on Taxes While Saving the Environment

We’re going to risk saying the one word that will probably cause you to stop reading: TAXES!

Are you still with us? Great! It’s time to stop make taxes…taxing. Did you know going green can be good for the environment and for your tax situation? We know it’s hard to think green, when you’re not seeing a lot of green; but there are a lot of tax benefits available if you know where to find them. So we did the work and found some of the best green tax incentives you can take advantage of:

  • Donate to a Green Charity. Here are a few non-profits that could use your help. Of course, donations are tax deductible:
    • Ocean Conservancy
      Charity Navigator Rating: 90.9%
      Uses the best in science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our ocean. One of the few non-profits dedicated to marine ecosystems.
    • Sierra Club
      Charity Navigator Rating: 94%
      Successes range from protecting millions of acres of wilderness to helping pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.
    • Natural Resources Defense Council
      Charity Navigator Rating: 96.4%
      NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which life depends using judicial and legislative positions.
  • Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit
    Act before December 31, 2019 to claim a federal tax incentive that covers 30% of the cost of a solar electric and solar water heating systems to any owned home.
    For a list of other energy tax credits and how to claim them, click here.
  • Electronics Recycling Through a Non-Profit Such as All Green
    The key here is reusing over recycling slightly outdated electronics. There is tax credits available to encourage consumers to donate functioning electronics via nonprofits such as All Green. “The IRS makes this credit available so that individuals are more likely to put an item into reuse as soon as possible while it has the highest fair market value,” said All Green’s Arman Sadejhi.
    For more information, check out the Internal Revenue Service’s Guide to Charitable Contributions – Publication 526 – at irs.gov.
  • Electric Vehicle Incentives
    If you buy an electric vehicle, you may be entitled to a tax credit of up to $7,500. The tax credit begins to phase out when a manufacturer sells 200,000 qualified vehicles – after that, the credit begins to shrink.
  • Non-business Energy Property Credit
    If you pay for certain qualified energy efficiency improvements in your home, you may be able to take a credit equal to the sum of 10% of the amount paid or incurred for those improvements (not including installation). Qualified improvements include adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and skylights, exterior doors, and metal or asphalt roofs designed to reduce heat in your home. A credit is also available for certain high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as high-efficiency water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel (including installation). The lifetime limit for these improvements and systems is $500.

You might be thinking…what about the bike I bought to ride to work instead of using my car, the organic food I buy, or the rain barrel I purchased to capture rainwater? Unfortunately, those are still not tax deductible. But guess what? You’re reducing your carbon footprint and more importantly, these are savings that will help everyone.

So think about the future because going green in 2017 will save you much green in 2018!