SWACO continues to focus on operational efficiencies and increased diversion
Last year, many Franklin County families, businesses and organizations continued to be significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While pandemic-related challenges were felt across the waste stream in the form of labor shortages and more landfill materials to manage, SWACO’s financial stewardship and innovative public-private partnerships allowed us to maintain some of the lowest disposal fees in Central Ohio. This helped us keep costs down for businesses and residents even as our operations grew and our community reached record levels of reuse, recycling and composting.
SWACO’s 2021 Community Impact Report provides insights into disposal trends at the landfill, and collaborations with schools, non-profits, local governments and other organizations to improve recycling and increase food waste diversion opportunities, highlighting new and exciting projects on tap for 2022 and beyond.
Central Ohio has a lot to celebrate. Our diversion rate rose to 51%, which means our community relied less on the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill and more on waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting last year. As a result, the landfill continues to have capacity beyond 40 years to meet the needs of a growing population. This success can certainly be attributed to the value our community places on both environmental stewardship and collaboration. Examples of this played out across central Ohio many times over the last year.
Here are just a few of the Report highlights:
When millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in our community safely packed in Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) coolers, SWACO and local hospitals worked together to divert that packaging from the landfill to area recyclers who used it to make new products.
When COVID cases started to decline, a regional manufacturer of protective desk shields found themselves with thousands of surplus shields that were scheduled for disposal in order to free up warehouse space. Recognizing an opportunity to divert the shields from the landfill, SWACO worked with schools locally and throughout Ohio to find homes for over 13,000 desk shields, providing them free of charge to schools in 25 different school districts throughout the State.
Our community has long excelled at working together to rise to challenges we face, and we’re equally excited to celebrate many non-pandemic related collaborations:
In Whitehall, the residential recycling rate doubled after city officials and residents worked together to implement a new volume-based recycling program that included the use of larger, wheeled recycling carts and allowed residents to save money by switching to smaller sized trash carts to more appropriately fit their needs.
When it came to addressing food waste – the largest source of waste stream material in our community – the city of Upper Arlington had success with decreasing the amount being generated in homes when they provided residents with educational information about how to prevent food waste and expanded their food waste drop off program.
Yet, even with those strategic partnerships in place, our community still relied on the county landfill. SWACO handled an additional 45,000 tons of material – a 4% increase over 2020. Today, more than 75% of the material sent to the landfill in our community has the potential to be diverted either through existing or new programs and infrastructure.
Not only is diversion good for our environment, but Central Ohio businesses also use those materials to make new products, many of which are sold right here in Ohio. Over the past year, SWACO has heard from a number of businesses who have shared that their operations require even more of those materials. That’s one of the reasons we’ve initiated several strategic projects aimed at creating the right infrastructure to get more of these materials flowing through our economy. This year, we will continue our collaborative efforts with Central Ohio communities to select a private sector partner with which to build and operate a new public-private material recovery facility that accommodates the expanded recycling needs of our growing community for the benefit of the environment and the economy.
Similarly, anticipating the impending expiration of contracts SWACO has for residential yard waste acceptance and processing, as well as a growing demand from communities and residents for expanded convenient organics recycling, SWACO is working to develop a more comprehensive organics processing program which will include the necessary infrastructure and new technologies.
Both of these projects will help area businesses expand opportunities to support their Environmental Sustainability Goals (ESG), attract new and emerging technologies to be co-located in our Region that leverage the waste stream and yield benefits for residents and families who want to be able to recycle and compost more, and have access to thousands of additional well-paying manufacturing and technology jobs.
SWACO has several other exciting milestones on the horizon for this year:
In June, we welcomed Joe Lombardi, a former SWACO Board Member and long-time Finance and Management Director at the City of Columbus, into the role of Executive Director at SWACO. Joe’s extensive background in public finance, familiarity with SWACO and close connections to the Central Ohio community will serve the agency well as we work with local communities, schools and businesses to advance our strategic direction in order to achieve a 75% diversion goal in Central Ohio.
In the coming months, we will be joined by our project partners to break ground on Columbus Solar Park, a solar array on a closed, SWACO-owned landfill site that will provide renewable energy to thousands of homes in Columbus when completed.
Before the end of the year, we plan to launch new incentives to make it easier for businesses to recycle and offer more convenient recycling to families and residents living in apartments and condos who have historically had limited on-site options. As part of this, we will share some recommendations on opportunities to capture and divert more hard-to-recycle materials such as textiles, mattresses and household hazardous waste.
Thank you for checking out the 2021 Community Impact Report. We couldn’t do any of this without your support.