Green Practices are encouraged throughout Washington state, but especially in King County, the state's largest and most populous county. So, when the county renovated its Shoreline Recycling and Transfer Station, green building practices were a prominent part of the design.

King County's original transfer station was designed and built in the early 1960s, but failed to meet the current needs of the service area, which included demand for additional recycling services. To ensure the new design met these needs, the county solicited input from neighboring residents, schools, waste management companies, environmental groups, businesses and local government officials.

“The design we used is different than originally planned because of that community input,” says Kevin Kiernan, director of the King County Solid Waste Division. “But the final layout works well for us, and the neighbors also like it.”

Some materials that would otherwise wind up in landfills were diverted for use as building materials. Discarded sheet metal scraps were incorporated into the station's walls. Fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, was used as a cement substitute, which was free and saved the county $4,000. The addition of fly ash also cut down on the carbon dioxide produced during construction. Carpet and resilient flooring in office areas also are made from recycled material.

In addition to using recycled material, King County incorporated renewable resources, including wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and Biofiber cabinets and paneling made from wheat straw.

Renewable energy and natural lighting contribute to the facility's sustainability. Even on cloudy days, photovoltaic panels on the roof can produce 15 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to offset 5 percent of the building's energy needs. Translucent panels used in sections of the walls and roof allow daylight to stream onto the main tipping floor. Tubular skylights also mitigate the need for electric light. These sources of light are expected to reduce lighting energy costs by 50 percent, a savings of $14,000 a year.

Rainwater collected from the roof of the facility is funneled through a system of gutters and pipes to a retaining tank. From there, the water is pumped throughout the facility, where it is used to wash floors and equipment, and flush toilets. Using rainwater for these tasks increases the amount of available drinking water by 57 percent and is expected to save $7,500 annually over a 50-year period.

Outside, bioswales — landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water — were installed to slow water flow and reduce stream bank erosion along nearby Thornton Creek, a salmon-bearing stream.

King County expects the Shoreline facility to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. LEED is a national rating system for high-performance, sustainable building developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Shoreline also encourages visits from the general public, who, while waiting to view the tipping floor, are treated to “ReTire,” an art installation incorporating recycled truck tires and recorded sound. A sound artist gathered recordings from a local salmon stream and blended them with other natural and man-made sounds. The exhibit encourages people to be mindful of what they throw away.

The Shoreline facility just opened in February, and employees are enthusiastic about the cleaner, healthier, brighter work environment.

“We plan to use the Shoreline facility as a model for eventual replacement of all our King County transfer stations,” Kiernan says.

Heather Larson is a freelance writer based in Federal Way, Wash.