I was visiting Seattle for the first time recently and I can honestly say that I get the hype.
From lush parks with tall trees and grassy areas, to the multiple lake views, there is so much nature to enjoy almost anywhere you go. Almost as impressive as the landscape was the amount of sustainable practices I saw throughout the city.
Here are the 4 sustainable habits that I was struck most by and think every city should strive for:
1. Compost / Organic Material Collection
Walking throughout Seattle I was shocked to see the availability of composting – from residential areas, to businesses, and even on some city streets! For those of you who aren’t familiar, composting is the act of separating organic waste, like food scraps, from non organic waste.
Composting a great way to avoid the green house gas and methane emissions that happens at the landfill while also utilizing the resource to create nutrient rich soil. It can additionally help reduce the amount of plastic material being used. It is more meaningful to switch to non plastic alternatives such as bamboo, paper, and cardboard when you are able to compost them at the end of their use instead of sending them to the landfill.
Having a city that supports and collects compost helps enable businesses and individuals to participate in a sustainable economy.
2. Labeling Trash as “Landfill”
While we’re on the subject of trash… Something I noticed in Seattle is that “trash” bins also say “Landfill”. Labeling the trash bins as landfill is a small but significant way to ensure people know that the objects they throw away actually go to a landfill where they will slowly decompose over hundreds to thousands of years – a very permanent reality!! In the United States, the average person creates 4.9 pounds of total waste a day.
I think the first step to helping people reduce this amount is making them aware of their actions.
3. No Plastic Straws
4. Reusable Grocery Bags
Something I noticed near and at the grocery stores in the city is that most people were using reusable tote bags for their groceries – far more than I see in my typical grocery store at home. I thought perhaps people in the city who walk and carry their groceries home may opt for a tote that is more sturdy. While that may be true, likely Washington’s new policy is adding to the movement. Effective October of 2021, all Washington stores must comply with a plastic bag ban. Not only are there requirements on the types of bags they will allow stores to use, there is also a fee passed on to the customer for each bag used at the store. No wonder people are opting to bring their own!
Seeing all of these sustainable habits around the city made me think that there must be so much more going on that isn’t so obvious. And, of course, after doing some research I found out about some policies and programs that are contributing positively to the city and its residents. Check out 4 of them below:
1. Mixed Use Zoning
2. Incentives for Green Building
3. Energy from Hydropower
4. Corporate Green Giants
Walking around Seattle it is impossible not to notice the corporate giants around every corner. Just to name a few that have offices, and in some cases campuses, include – Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Tableau, and Starbucks. While no company is perfect and without need of improvement, most of these companies have sustainable initiatives that positively impact the residents of Seattle. For example, Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030. This means that their campus and office spaces in Seattle must also be included in the calculation, creating opportunity for development and improvement, which in turn creates jobs and stimulates the economy. Another example is Starbucks and their goal to reduce waste by 50% by 2030. The company partnered with another Seattle based company, Ridwell, to trial the use of reusable cups that can be collected, sanitized and used again by a new customer. This gives residents of Seattle a chance to be a part of sustainable processes without having to change their morning routine.
Clearly, in Seattle there’s a lot more going on with sustainability than you might have thought. Behind the beautiful parks and tree-paved streets are policies and businesses that support green improvements. While there is still ways to go, I think most cities across the United States could learn a few things from Seattle.