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Despite the crazy year we’ve had, the team at SWACO was able to accomplish so much on behalf of – and in coordination with – central Ohio residents, businesses, schools and other public- and private-sector organizations. Our team not only made sure that waste management continued uninterrupted for central Ohio’s more than 1.3 million people, but they also rolled out some of the most innovative waste diversion programs in the country. I’m pleased to share this look back at the last twelve months of SWACO’s activities and achievements in 2020.
First, though, I’d like to acknowledge our essential workers. Dozens of SWACO employees have been working day in and day out throughout the pandemic to keep the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill and transfer stations open and operational, while so many of us have been able to work in the safety and comfort of our homes. I’m so proud of and grateful to our team at SWACO and all of the sanitation workers who work so hard to ensure the safe and timely management of our community’s waste and recyclables. We will continue to get through this together.
In July, we announced that the former Franklin County Sanitary Landfill in Grove City would be turned into a solar farm. We’re leasing the 173-acre property to BQ Energy, a New York firm that specializes in developing wind and solar projects on former community landfills and other brownfield sites. BQ Energy will design, build, operate and maintain a solar farm capable of generating 50 megawatts of power a year, and AEP Energy Partners has already committed to purchasing that power which should be enough for 5,000 homes. This is an example of how we can turn waste into resources by transforming an otherwise unusable piece of property into an economic engine that will generate jobs and revenue for this community.
In September, SWACO, along with more than 150 business, nonprofit, government and educational partners, launched Save More Than Food, a comprehensive campaign to educate consumers and food-related businesses about ways to reduce food waste at home, at school and at work. The campaign is using a variety of marketing tools to spread the message that reducing food waste helps the environment, saves precious natural resources and helps solve hunger issues in the community. It is part of a larger community action plan to cut food waste in half by 2030.
Just a few weeks later, we announced a partnership with Rev1, a Columbus-based startup studio, to attract and support pioneering new businesses focused on diverting waste from the landfill. Food waste presents the best opportunity for helping SWACO reach our goal of increasing our community’s waste diversion rate from the current 50% to 75% by 2032. Food scraps make up 15% of the material in the landfill, more than any other category. Yet, of the nearly 400 companies and 5,000 employees involved in central Ohio’s recycling industry, very few of them collect, process, recycle or compost food waste and other organic material. By aligning with Rev1, we’re able to better identify and support the startups that will help us accelerate this much-needed field. This is an exciting opportunity to foster innovation as well as job creation in central Ohio, and it’s another example of how we can leverage our waste stream for the economic benefit of our community.
Throughout the year, we held various events to make it easier for people to divert waste. We partnered with Franklin County communities to host household hazardous waste drop-off events, which resulted in more than 100,000 pounds of material collected from over 2,500 residents who participated in these events. Right after the November election, we held a political yard sign event, where we collected thousands of political yard signs. That translated into over 3,000 pounds of recycled metal from the yard sign stands alone, and many more pounds from the recycled plastic and cardboard signs themselves. All of this material would have been destined for the landfill, but was diverted by providing residents with an opportunity to recycle.
We also introduced new and bolstered existing programs and services to support waste diversion. From webinars and educational videos to waste reduction grants and virtual landfill tours, the SWACO team was always looking for ways to educate the public about proper recycling techniques and easy waste diversion activities.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the role residents and businesses in our community played in SWACO’s success in 2020. It would have been easy to let recycling go by the wayside during the pandemic, when the containment of the coronavirus and the protection of human life were the priorities. But that didn’t happen. Our community continued to recycle and look for additional ways to divert waste from the landfill. This summer, for example, we helped coordinate the donation of plywood used to board up businesses and storefronts during the summer protests to the Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, keeping thousands of pounds of plywood out of the landfill.
At a time when recycling and waste diversion has never been more important to our economy and the environment, I’m so grateful for the employees at SWACO as well as for the residents, schools, restaurants and other businesses and nonprofit organizations in central Ohio that have contributed to SWACO’s progress this year.
Here’s to a happy, healthy and sustainable new year!