Retirement community shows its green side

What’s been called the oldest profession has grabbed so much attention that little has been made of a fresh batch of sins.

Let’s leave the story of disgraced New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer where it belongs, in last week’s headlines. We’re on to a new week, this one marked by the wearin’ o’ the green.

Speaking of green, concern for the environment is showing up in unexpected places, including the Vatican. Dare I call it the doin’ o’ the green?

Polluting is among several offenses a Roman Catholic Church official listed as “new sins” in an interview published March 9 in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Bearing the headline “New Forms of Social Sin,” the interview with Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti outlined aspects of modern life that church officials see as an affront to God. Along with harming the environment, Girotti decried economic injustice, genetic experimentation and drug abuse, according to the Associated Press.

It’s good to hear that engineers are working on solar energy for some Vatican buildings. However, I can’t help but point out a teensy-weensy contradiction in the church’s newfound environmentalism. Forgive me, but — um — is this the same Roman Catholic Church that still seriously frowns on the use of artificial contraception? Too many people on our fragile planet, isn’t that one whale of an environmental issue?

Just a thought. Anyway, I’m no one to talk. I’m a Catholic mother of three children. My late husband and I more than replaced ourselves, leaving carbon footprints all over the place.

Quick, time to change the subject — or at least move it from Vatican City to Everett, where another unexpected place is embracing earth-friendly practices.

The Garden Court Retirement Community in south Everett recently began recycling its food waste.

“We recycle scraps of all the food from the kitchen, all the scrapings, everything left on the plates,” said Alicia Bright, maintenance director at Garden Court. The community has 148 apartments and more than 30 residents in assisted living.

Garden Court works with Cedar Grove Composting, a Seattle-based company with a compost facility on Everett’s Smith Island.

The retirement community’s kitchen staff puts food waste into biodegradable bags, which are discarded in an outside compost bin provided by Cedar Grove. The compost company makes a weekly pickup. Other garbage and recycled items are handled as usual, by Waste Management.

Cedar Grove Composting came for a short training s ession and “everybody wanted to participate,” Bright said. “We now have a ‘green team,’ a committee in the building.” That team includes some senior residents.

“I like to think our seniors are very progressive,” said Jamie Jewell, resident service director at Garden Court. “As far as I know, we’re the only retirement community actually doing this.”

Susan Thoman, director of marketing at Cedar Grove Composting, said that while food waste recycling is well under way in Seattle, it’s just getting started in Snohomish County.

“They’re leading the pack,” Thoman said of Garden Court. The cost of recycling is generally about half what customers pay for regular garbage collection, she said. Optional biodegradable bags add to the cost.

Food waste — not just veggies and fruits, but bread, pasta, all of it — is turned into compost and compost-based soil, which is sold to commercial landscapers and to the public. “We’d love to see more of the public come; they’re welcome,” Thoman said.

Workers at Garden Court are pleased that the greener kitchen has been accepted with enthusiasm.

“We do have this green team, and residents are an instrumental part of it. They come up with wonderful ideas,” Jewell said. What she’s seen goes against any notion that environmental concern is only for the young. “Let’s get rid of these stereotypes. A lot of these folks have grandchildren. They really are concerned with what’s going on in the world,” she said.

Bright also sees environmental zeal among residents, sometimes more than she’d like. “They want to recycle their old Kleenex. We don’t have to go that far,” she said.

At 55, Bright is encouraged that elders are setting a green example.

“If younger ones don’t see us doing it, how are we going to get them to do it?” she said. “Everybody has a part in it.”

Unlikely as it seems, even the Vatican.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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