Carrots in a Ziploc
Grapes in a bag
Sandwich in saran wrap, with a "fresh daily" tag
Water bottle snuggled by an extra pair of socks
Chips to gnaw
Juice in a box
That's an average American kids lunch stuffed in a school bag, with enough plastic packaging to wallpaper the classroom. Once it comes to school lunch, we don't practice what we preach, so let's unpackage what we teach.
There is a hidden curriculum in our schools. In many schools across the U.S. lunch is served on foam polystyrene trays, plastic forks and straws come in little plastic baggies, a plastic cup for fruit cocktail or vegetables sit on that foam tray, and a plastic wrapped Burrito or pizza rounds out the meal. Some schools even serve milk in a plastic pouch, like a water balloon. Yet, open any science textbook and whole chapters spout opposite messaging about what we put in our bodies, what touches our food and how we treat the environment. It makes no sense to teach students environmental ethics and recycling when we turn around and show them in the cafeteria that consuming single-use plastic and throwing it in the garbage can is the way we actually do things. This is the hidden curriculum.
There are also hidden costs. Styrene, the monomer that becomes the long chain polymer "polystyrene," is toxic from the start, from factory worker health to environmental contamination. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services categorizes styrene as "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen." In the environment, most of us have seen bits of Styrofoam blowing in the wind. Those fragments break down further, and in sunlight UV degradation breaks polystyrene back into the monomer form styrene. Dr. Perry Elizabeth Sheffield, MD, deputy director of Pediatrics and Preventative Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained, "As experts in children's environmental health, we know that what we do to the environment, we ultimately do to ourselves and to our children. Products like polystyrene create pollution where they are produced, where they are discarded, and inside our bodies. They dirty our air, contaminate our water, and get into the food chain. Because polystyrene threatens human health and cannot be practically recycled, we support a polystyrene ban."
Styrene likely isn't good for our children's bodies either. There are several studies that show styrene can migrate from packaging to food. But what of the multi-year, daily exposures children have to polystyrene products in the cafeteria? Debby Lee Cohen, executive director and founder of Cafeteria Culture, explained "Yet the long term effects of hot food served daily to children, directly onto trays made of the chemical styrene—sometimes 3 times per day and over a 13-year period—has yet to be studied." Hint to future researchers, there's a PhD thesis in evaluating the K-12 styrene exposure experiment underway on millions of U.S. kids.
Debby Lee Cohen envisions zero waste schools, which complements the growing global movement to end the one-way trajectory of plastic from production to the dump, incinerator or middle of the ocean. On a global scale, groups like the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Break Free From Plastic and the 5 Gyres Institute, with their Foam Free campaign, are turning their eyes to upstream to end the single-use throwaway plastic concept, that is rapidly trashing our land and sea. What better place to shift culture than in the classroom?
One classroom took action years ago. Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Angeles, California learned about plastic pollution in our oceans in 2012 and looked no further than the hundreds of foam trays they used daily. For one week they collected every Styrofoam tray from lunch room garbage cans, rinsed and stack them up, resulting in a 30 foot tall tower. They punched a rope through the middle and hung it in the tree like a giant rectangular snake. Two years later, the former superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy, announced in front of cameras on the school grounds that the entire district was going "foam free."
Other similar efforts were happening in other states, and in 2015, the Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition of school districts in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale that leverage their combined buying power, found one company that made compostable lunch trays. By giving that one vendor all of their business, they brought the price down to the point where it was economically feasible. They made the switch. By the end of the 2015 school year half a billion foam trays were kept out of landfills, incinerators and student meals across the U.S.
But, as I document in my book Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution, the industries that make plastic are not giving up quietly. Dart, one of the largest companies making foamed polystyrene products, is on the offensive, supporting policies that push recycling. In New York City the legislative bill "Intro 1480" was introduced to promote foam polystyrene recycling. While recycling is a publicly favored concept, the reality is dirty foam is costly to recover and hard to recycle, requiring substantial subsidies in communities willing to foot the bill. Most cities don't want to burden tax payers with these added costs. Bills like this are less about stopping the harm to people and the environment, and more about protecting the market for foamed polystyrene plastic products and packaging. Environmental NGO's countered this bill with "Intro 1596" an outright polystyrene ban, and are working hard to educate policy makers to take their name off of one bill and sign on to the other. This work is the hard won fight toward zero waste.
Therefore, we need to rise from those tiny, one-size-fits all, plastic chairs with the built-in desk and stand up for zero waste schools, and for the healthy mind and bodies we want for our kids. There's a new lesson plan coming to a school near you, with a roadmap for change. Model zero waste schools are popping up in Boulder, Colorado, New York City, Marin, California and Oak Park, Illinois, and dozens of other cities. Cafeteria Culture has launched "Sort2Save," a tool kit for schools to go zero waste, with a step-by-step guide to get it done. Can you hear the school bell ringing? It's time to practice what we teach.
In war, natural disaster and poverty, water is the first relief to arrive alongside the security of life and limb. It is the gift that aids the weary traveler, sits at the table before a meal arrives. The lack of it kills before the lack of food does. It is not a commodity, as in the Bolivian Water Wars that fought the privatization of public wells, but rather it is a human right. So when the United Nations sanctions against Iraq in the 1990's stressed schools and hospitals to the point of disrepair and abandonment of their wells, human rights activists stepped in.
In 1999 a group of veterans, working through Veterans for Peace, founded the Iraq Water Project, with a mission to improve the health prospects of some part of the Iraqi population dependent upon water treatment facilities in desperate need of repair. Once a site is selected, usually a school or clinic, a 3-stage filtration unit, with reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light treatment, is set up to clean incoming water from a river, well or municipal source.
New water filter installed in alAskari shrine in Samarra.
To date, 160 units are in place mostly in schools and clinics across Iraq. We've installed one filter unit in an orphanage, a refugee camp, six prisons, including Abu Ghraib, which is now closed, and the alAskari shrine in Samarra, the one that alQaida bombed back in 2006.
Our partner, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, installed five units in Najaf schools, while Life for Relief and Development, an American Islamic NGO, installed two units in schools in the Diyala Province (east-central Iraq). For reasons of security we cannot name the group we work with in Nassiriya that installed four water treatment units in the new Nassiriya Heart Center and another four in local schools. These organizations are doing the lion's share of the work, taking responsibility for the installation, security and maintenance of the water filter units, providing citizens with a basic human right—access to clean water.
What's come of this investment are positive unintended consequences that have exceed our expectations, both social justice and conservation. By contributing to the relief of someone's suffering, a wonderful sense of humility and joy emerges, especially among the U.S. veterans participating in the project, which I can attest to personally. More importantly, lives are saved, dysentery among small children and water-borne illnesses have been reduced where the water filters are installed. Unexpectedly, the water filters serve not only the schools and clinics, but they become a community hub—a meeting place. The goodwill that emerges from Iraqi organizations managing their own recovery and the relationship that forms between Iraqis and American citizens is invaluable. There is reconciliation and atonement, which are hard to find.
A school in the Therthar village near Falluja.
Interestingly, giving water contributes to solving another problem: plastic pollution. Often when relief aid is sent after a natural disaster or during civil unrest, it comes packaged in stuff that becomes garbage. Water bottles by the millions are strewn across villages in Iraq, reflective of the years of poor waste management, garbage from war and relief aid. American bases established in Iraq employed "burn pits" to incinerate garbage. The same burn and bury strategy exists in villages across the country, sending acrid smoke into communities. Iraq's waste problem contributed to public outbreaks in cholera and dysentery, and roadside bombs found ample trash piles to be concealed within.
Iraqi children scavenging for recyclables in a dump near Najaf.Haidar Hamdan / AFP
One water filter can sustain daily drinking water for 1,000 residents for up to 3 months before filters need to be changed. The same volume would exceed half a million 1 liter plastic water bottles. By providing the "means to fish, rather than the fish itself," access to water becomes seemingly endless. But in today's political climate in Iraq, there are continued challenges to keep these water filter units operational.
Therefore, what continues today is maintenance and new installations of water filter units where they are needed. We recognize that past sanctions, war and poverty, exacerbate suffering, but sharing this gift is contributing to Iraq's recovery in sometimes unpredictable ways. It all begins with water.
With well over one million solar installations throughout the state, California has long been a leader in the U.S. solar industry. Recent legislation mandating that all new homes in the state must be built with solar panels likely leaves residents wondering about the cost of solar panels in California.
With ample sunshine, unnaturally high energy costs, ambitious climate goals and progressive leadership, California is ripe with solar potential. The preexisting availability of local solar providers in California allows solar customers the valuable opportunity to gather a large number of competing quotes, sometimes generating several thousand dollars worth of savings in the process.
You can start getting free, no-obligation quotes from top solar companies in your area by filling out the form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in California?
As of 2021, our market research and data from top brands shows the average cost of solar panels in California is around $2.73 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $10,101 after the federal solar tax credit is applied.
Here's how that price looks when applied to other system sizes:
|Size of Solar Panel System||California Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
It may surprise some readers that the cost of solar in California isn't as low as in many other states, but keep in mind that the real value of solar comes relative to the price of energy in the state (and California's is the highest in the country). All in all, solar energy provides excellent value to California residents.
Knowing the average solar panel cost in California is $2.73 per watt, a savvy solar customer can compare quotes against this figure to ensure they receive the best value possible. You may find that popular national brands don't have the lowest prices.
What Determines Solar Panel Prices?
The cost of solar panel installations in California largely depends on a homeowner's location and energy needs. In most cases, areas with higher local electricity rates offer more value from solar panels. Here are other factors that influence installation costs.
Solar Equipment Costs
Similar to most modern technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may prefer a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and an electric vehicle charger.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on whether a customer chooses to finance or purchase their system in cash. Paying upfront provides the best return on investment and fastest solar panel payback period, as there are no fees or interest charges associated with it.
The two most common solar financing options include taking out a loan and leasing solar panels. If paying with a solar loan, be careful of high interest rates and early repayment penalties and other fees. Homeowners who lease their panels or sign power purchase agreements (PPAs) enjoy little to no upfront costs, but solar leases provide the least amount of overall value.
Solar Installation Costs
With nearly 2,500 solar companies throughout California, prices can range significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers looking to get a leg up on their competition may offer lower prices to undercut the biggest names in the industry.
Solar Panel Cost After Incentives, Rebates and Tax Credits
California's progressive leadership has done good work in spurring investment in renewable energy. All homeowners are eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and the state offers several incentive programs and solar rebates aimed at further increasing access to reliable, affordable solar panels. However, given the state's ambitious climate targets and the energy burden on most of its population, it could probably do more.
Let's take a closer look at the solar incentives available to California residents.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All California residents are eligible for the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for installing PV solar panels and any other eligible solar equipment. Any reputable solar installer will assist in the process of claiming the ITC on your federal tax returns. Claiming the ITC deducts 26% of the total cost of your solar installation from the taxes you owe.
To be eligible for the solar tax credit, homeowners must own the solar energy system, either having paid for it in cash or by taking out a solar loan. Homeowners who lease solar panels are not eligible to claim the ITC.
California Net Metering Programs
Net energy metering (NEM), or net metering, allows customers to feed the surplus energy generated by their solar panels back to their local power grid in exchange for energy credits from their utility company. As most solar energy systems generate more energy than can be used during the day, this incentive provides homeowners additional savings on their electricity bills and lowers the demand for grid-supplied electricity in the region.
California currently offers a statewide net metering incentive for residents generating electricity with solar panels. Exact credit values will vary based on your utility company.
California Solar Tax Incentives and Rebate Programs
There are also a handful of California solar incentives to help lower the cost of solar for residents. Some of these include rebates, loans and property tax exemptions. Though any quality solar company will be knowledgeable about the local incentives in your area, it's always worth doing some independent research. We recommend using the DSIRE solar incentive database to find money-saving opportunities in your area.
FAQ: Average Cost of Solar Panels in California
Is it worth going solar in California?
One of the sunniest climates in the country makes California one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar power. The ample sunshine, generous net metering policies and pre-existing availability of solar installers provide a great deal of value for solar customers in California.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in California?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in California is $2.73 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $10,100 after the solar tax credit. Heavy investment in renewable energy has lowered the cost of solar in the state significantly, and this cost offers great value relative to high local energy prices. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for free estimates.
Do solar panels increase home value in California?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the areas in California where solar panels increase home value the most correspond with the areas that have the most solar-friendly policies. It's worth noting that even if your home's value increases, California has laws in place to ensure your property taxes don't rise as the result of a solar installation.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500-square-foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is a more important factor in determining solar panel cost in California. The higher the energy costs in your home, the greater your cost of solar will be.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.