Waste Characterization Study

Interestingly, SWACO is unique among solid waste authorities in Ohio because we’re the only one to own and operate a municipal solid waste landfill. Yet, our creation as a solid waste authority requires us to help the 41 communities we serve in Franklin County to reduce their reliance on landfills.  These mutually compatible roles makes it possible for SWACO to monitor the Franklin County waste stream and to respond with new programs and services to help residents and businesses increase their diversion and improve the waste stream. 

To that end, SWACO hired Cascadia Consulting Group and MSW Consultants to conduct a Waste Characterization Study which was completed in 2019. The study examined and documented what is thrown away in central Ohio and identified opportunities to divert even more recyclable material away from the county landfill.

Over the course of four seasons, 180 business and residential waste samples were collected weighing 39,000 pounds in total. 

These samples were hand-sorted into 64 categories and evaluated based on their weight. material type and recyclability. 

Seventy-six percent (76%) of the materials thrown away in Franklin County have the potential to be recycled or composted. 

  • In addition, 41% of material currently being landfilled could be recycled or composted today through existing programs. 
  • An additional 35% has the potential to be recycled or composted if new programs and infrastructure are established. 
  • Compostable food scraps and cardboard were determined to present the greatest opportunity for increasing diversion. 

Together, the materials being thrown away in our County and which have the potential to be diverted, have an estimated value of $23 million. 

The Top 10 items in Franklin County’s waste stream are: 

*based on weight

  1. Food Waste (15%)
  2. Corrugated Cardboard (10%)
  3. Other Compostable Items & Fiber including items such as paper towels and napkins (8%),
  4. Magazines, Newspaper, Office & Other Paper (8%),
  5. Bulky & Durable Goods (7%),
  6. Construction & Demolition (4%),
  7. Plastic Containers (4%)
  8. Wood Pallets (4%)
  9. Textiles (4%)
  10. Yard Waste (3%)

Combined, these items make up 68% or 772,234 tons of the material being landfilled in Franklin County.

How does the Waste Characterization Study benefit Franklin County residents and businesses?

In the last year alone, SWACO introduced several new programs including Recycle Right, Make a Difference, the Residential Recycling Cart Initiative, Consortium Program and the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative

These programs are making an impact. Last year, SWACO documented a 50% diversion rate in Franklin County, the highest rate on record for our community.  

However, Franklin County still landfills over a million tons of material every year. And, with a goal to increase diversion to 75% by 2032, the Waste Characterization Study results will be used to make informed decisions regarding the creation of new programs aimed at increasing diversion of a wide range of materials from the landfill. 

Increasing Recycling and Composting

The biggest opportunities for increasing diversion were determined to be food scraps and cardboard both of which can either be currently recovered or have the potential to be captured and diverted with new programs and infrastructure. 

SWACO currently has programs and resources available to help capture these materials.  

Food Scraps and Waste

Nearly a million pounds of food waste arrives at the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill every day. Yet, 69 million meals are missed every year by people in our community. Think about the power our actions could have if we donated edible food instead of throwing it away. Additionally, when the food from our plate is wasted, we lose all of the resources - water, land and energy, it took to produce it.

To assist in preventing food waste, as well as recovering and recycling food in Franklin County, SWACO convened the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative which has brought together more than 60 partner organization to move excess food as far up the food hierarchy as possible. That mean’s we’re working to prevent waste at its source, rescuing edible food in order to feed hungry people, recycling food scraps by feeding it to animals as well as composting it when necessary. All of these actions are more desirable than landfilling food scraps and waste. 

There are steps each of us can take to reduce waste. Visit our website dedicated to helping you reduce food waste at home and at your place of business. 

Together, these we’re making a collective impact to improve the quality of life for all Franklin County residents and protect the health and well-being of our environment. 

Have a food waste question? Drop us a line.

COFWI Logo-stacked

Cardboard and Other Household Recyclables 

With the proliferation of on-line shopping, it’s not surprising that so much cardboard material is being generated. However, cardboard, magazines, newspaper, office & printing paper, mail and other paper items are easily recycled today so the fact that nearly 400 million pounds of it is winding up in the county landfill each year is staggering. 

Curbside Recycling

To recycle these materials at home, simply place them in the curbside recycling container at set it at the curb on your designated collection day. Those materials will be collected and take to the Rumpke Material Recovery Facility on Fields Ave., in Columbus where they’re sorted and baled into cubes before being sold and made into new paper products. 

To correctly recycle cardboard, make sure that cardboard boxes are empty and flattened before placing them into the curbside container.


Drop-Off Recycling Program

SWACO operates more than 60 drop-off recycling locations throughout Franklin County. Cardboard and other household recyclables are accepted in these large containers which are free for residents and businesses to use. 

Please make sure that cardboard is empty and flattened before being put into the drop-off container. Leaving any material, including cardboard, outside of the drop-off container is considered illegal dumping and will be reported and investigated. 

When it comes to using the drop-off recycling program, make sure you know how to Recycle Right. Learn more here.

New Programs and Resources

In 2020, SWACO will launch new educational programs for capturing and recovering food waste, including funding drop-off composting sites in a number of Franklin County cities, and will unveil new resources to assist area businesses start up and expand recycling programs. To learn more about food waste, visit cofwi.org. To learn more about commercial recycling programs, visit swaco.org/businesses

Download the 2019 Waste Characterization Study

Download our Waste Characterization Infographic

Previous Waste Characterization Study’s are available here