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6 mega-trends that marked the past decade

These are the ones that also had a green slant to them, making them special to TreeHugger's heart.

It's that time of year when we look back and reflect on the trends that shaped the past 12 months, except this year is even more special because it marks the turn of a decade. We can now get a sense of the things for which the 2010s will be remembered. Not all are positive or admirable, but some demonstrate a collective shift toward environmental awareness.

I've taken a few of the following trends from the Guardian's list of ‘15 super-trends that defined the 2010s‘ and added some of my own, based on the years of research and writing I've done for this site. While we haven't changed our lifestyles nearly as drastically as is required to slow global warming, there has been a lot to wrap our heads around.

1. The plastics crisis

plastic on beach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka© K Martinko – Plastic on the beach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Few people questioned single-use plastic until this past decade, when the waste caught up with us and we began to realize that “there is no away.” Disposable plastics and eating on the go went from being “the height of metropolitan chic,” as the Guardian put it, to “items of shame as we see them pulled from dead marine mammals, clogging rivers in developing countries or lying on beaches littered with detritus.”

The Zero Waste movement took hold in some small corners of the Earth; if people did not adopt it, at least they became familiar with the term and concept. It has become acceptable to carry reusable containers, cups, and cutlery for use in public spaces. Some mainstream stores have adopted reusable container policies and pledged to eliminate plastic packaging.

2. The need for a greener diet

shakshuka-style tempeh© Shakshuka-style Tempeh (From “The Reducetarian Cookbook” by Reducetarian Foundation. Recipe developed by Pat Crocker. Photo by Ashleigh Amoroso.)

The Guardian says veganism went from inducing eye-rolls at the beginning of the decade to mainstream, with options available in most supermarkets and restaurants. Societal acceptance of a diet trimmed to accommodate health, ethical, and environmental concerns is higher than ever, and this has allowed veganism, vegetarianism, flexitarianism, and reducetarianism to flourish.

“The shift shows no sign of letting up either, with some reports suggesting that a quarter of the population will be vegetarian by 2025.”

3. Renewable energy

The renewable industry has “turned the energy system on its head in the past 10 years.” Wind, solar, and hydro power projects have gone from producing less than 8 percent of the UK's electricity in 2010 to more than 33 percent at the end of 2019. The cost of renewable energy technologies has been slashed faster than predicted, which bodes well for its continued expansion. Perhaps the 2020s could be the decade we get off fossil fuel completely?

4. Social media

While the rise of smartphones and social media has introduced plenty of negatives into our lives – think selfies, FOMO, social media addiction, etc. – it has allowed people to become aware of issues they wouldn't have known about otherwise, namely environmental ones. This has helped to inform and galvanize support for crises such as wildfires and Arctic ice melting. It has enabled crowds to turn out for climate protests and made Greta Thunberg a household name.

5. Minimalism

dog in a boxUnsplash — Sadly, Kondo's branded boxes don't come with a cute dog./Public Domain

The 2010s were the decade of rethinking how much stuff we own. It was when the Minimalists launched their hugely successful podcast, when books about minimalism and decluttering proliferated (ironically) to the point of needing their own section in the bookstore, and Marie Kondo inspired everyone to think about what ‘sparks joy' in their homes. If the 2000s were about acquiring stuff, the 2010s were about curating it, weeding out the ugly and useless, and learning to shop (or not shop) with shrewd eye for quality and value.

6. Strong is the new sexy

Perhaps the connection to environmentalism is not strong here, but health is a subcategory of TreeHugger's green living section, so I think this deserves some mention. The 2010s were the decade when getting strong and muscular became acceptable and normalized for women. This was accompanied by renewed interest in well-rounded healthy eating, in local food production and home cooking. It has also had the priceless benefit of improving personal health, turning around health problems, and slashing health care bills for many Americans.

Which super-trends do you think the 2010s will be remembered for, and what can we expect in the coming decade?

These are the ones that also had a green slant to them, making them special to TreeHugger's heart.