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By Tom Watson

The first decade of the 21st Century is over already? It seems like just yesterday everyone was freaking out about Y2K. But suddenly here we are, at the end of the decade. In many ways 2000-2009 was quite the downer, but there was also lots of positive stuff, including plenty in the environmental realm.

So here's my contribution to looking on the bright side. These are my picks for the top five local green consumer developments of the decade:

Food waste collection

I just love the fact that here in the Seattle area, most single-family households can put their food scraps and food-contaminated paper in with their yard waste, and it gets turned into compost. Cedar Grove Composting cooks the heck out of it, bags it up and sells it at major stores as a high-quality soil amendment. Food waste collection has really expanded here in the past few years, thanks in part to convenience innovations such as the widespread use of compostable bags. The San Francisco Bay area is the only other region in the nation I know of where food waste collection from the public is so widespread, but down there it's generally not made into quite as high-grade of a product. This is something we truly lead the nation in - turning what used to be garbage into a useful resource - and I'm proud that the public has accepted it so well.

Electronics recycling and product stewardship

Washington state was among the first to approve an electronics recycling law, which took effect in January 2009. Residents and small businesses can now recycle their computers and TVs at no charge at hundreds of locations across the state, including more than 50 here in King County. It's free to you and me because electronics manufacturers are now required to pay the costs of recycling. That's what the product stewardship concept is all about: Companies taking full responsibility for their products. Product stewardship is the future of environmental protection, and the fact that governments and industry are finally starting to take it seriously is very encouraging.

Light rail

OK, the Seattle area is behind nearly every major city in the West Coast on this, but at least they got the first line operating before the end of the decade. And they just opened the last station on that first line, so you can actually take it from downtown Seattle to the airport now. I have done that in Atlanta and Washington DC (on the West Coast you can also take the train to the airport from downtown in Portland and San Francisco), and it's a great service to have.

Farmers markets

There are 15 farmers markets in Seattle alone now, and more than 90 in western Washington. Neighborhoods and towns that don't have one want one. Several are even open year-around now. Farmers markets are about healthy foods, foods grown with fewer chemicals, meeting the people who grow and make your food, and creating local green jobs. And they are proof that green can be fun. Farmers markets are a huge under-the-radar environmental success story.

Green products

You used to really have to search for these, but now they are everywhere in the Seattle area. New stores have opened that specialize in green consumer products (Goods for the Planet, for example). Many mainstream stores, from hardware stores to groceries to clothing stores, also carry a selection of green products, and dozens of local entrepreneus have sprouted up to make green stuff. And what's great is that it really is just stuff now. A "green product" isn't like some weird thing from outer space anymore. Our everyday items, from our cleaning products to our doormat, are often made with fewer toxics, or recycled materials, or using other sustainable practices. It's the new wave and it's happening everywhere, but a little more so here. We're on the green edge for green stuff, and it's something to be proud of.

So tomorrow night, when you pop that champagne and kiss a turbulent decade goodbye, just remember that we've come a long green way, baby. (Did I just channel the 70s with that line?) Here's to even more green progress in the next 10 years!

Contributed by Tom Watson, Project Manager, EcoConsumer Resources, King County Solid Waste Division Telephone: 206-296-4481 | Fax: 206-296-0197


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