SWACO has published the 2021 annual Community Impact Report providing insights into local disposal trends at the landfill, and updates on collaborations with schools, non-profits, local governments and other organizations to improve recycling and increase food waste diversion opportunities. Most notably, SWACO reported a 51% diversion rate – one of the highest rates in the Midwest and more evidence that Central Ohioans value reducing their reliance on the landfill by now recycling more material than is landfilled.
“While we still have a way to go in order to reach our goal to divert 75% of all waste stream materials from the landfill by 2032, the reported numbers show we continue to make progress,” says Joe Lombardi, Executive Director for SWACO. “Our Region’s progress is a direct result of the tireless efforts of numerous public and private partners working together to create a safer, healthier and greener community.”
Highlights from the report:
Residential food waste diversion and recycling programs yield big results
The Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative, a collaborative group focused on food waste prevention and led by SWACO, created the Save More Than Food (SMTF) campaign in 2020 to help cut Central Ohio’s food waste in half by 2030. As part of this program of work, SWACO received a $60,000 federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study food waste behaviors and the positive benefits public education campaigns like SMTF can have. Last year, funding from the grant supported partnerships between SWACO, the City of Upper Arlington and The Ohio State University to study the behaviors of hundreds of households before and after receiving food waste reduction, prevention and composting materials. Not only did the residents of Upper Arlington capture and divert 138,000 pounds of food waste from the landfill, the study also documented:
- 21% of households reduced the amount of food waste they created
- 40% increase in the use of the city’s food waste drop off program
SWACO has also now partnered with 10 local communities to expand the food waste drop off program and today, 29% of Franklin County residents report composting food or yard waste either at home, at the curb or through a drop off program.
In addition to food waste diversion efforts, SWACO has continued to help improve the infrastructure of curbside recycling programs in municipalities across the county. For example, in 2021 SWACO worked with the City of Whitehall to transition homeowners to a volume-based trash and recycling collection program which incentivized households to reduce their trash bill by recycling more. The results are impressive:
- 95% participation in the curbside recycling program compared to 26% in 2020
- 85% increase in the amount of material recycled
- 21% decrease in trash
In Gahanna, SWACO partnered with the city to implement Feet on the Street, a national program from The Recycling Partnership which uses a team of community-based observers to visit each resident’s recycling cart to provide tailored feedback on how to ensure only the accepted recyclables are placed into the cart. As a result, the city saw a 45% reduction in the amount of items incorrectly placed in Gahanna’s curbside recycling program.
While most Central Ohio homeowners have access to a curbside recycling program, many times those households require additional recycling capacity. SWACO offers a Drop Off Recycling Program to assist those residents. In 2021, SWACO expanded the program, adding new drop-off locations at the Whitehall Community Park YMCA, Jerry L. Garver YMCA and Eldon & Elise Ward YMCA. The program collected one million pounds of recyclables every month. SWACO also piloted new options for recycling at multi-family housing complexes intended to provide greater access to recycling for families living in apartments and condos.
New resources provide incentives for businesses to recycle
In 2021, SWACO hired staff dedicated to helping Central Ohio businesses – one of the largest generators of landfill materials – improve and expand their recycling programs. This included the piloting of a new incentive program which helped to jump-start recycling at two local businesses:
- The King Arts Complex used SWACO’s Business Tool Kit to audit its waste stream to better understand the type of waste being generated. Then, with SWACO’s support, purchased recycling containers and installed educational signage detailing what the program accepts. As a result, they now recycle two cubic yards of material each week.
- Zipline Logistics worked with SWACO to switch from plastic and other nonrecyclable breakroom items to reusable glassware and mugs. SWACO and Zipline are also working to implement a recycling program to capture plastic bottles and metal cans. In the first month of the pilot, Zipline collected one cubic yard of materials, diverting the equivalent of 200 gallons of milk from the landfill.
Grant programs and dedicated resources help partners reach sustainability goals
SWACO continues to offer a variety of grants to help area schools, universities, local governments and non-profit organizations reach their sustainability goals. Last year, SWACO awarded more than $264,000 in grants to help partners reach their waste diversion goals. One of the grant programs supported more than a dozen partners and helped divert more than 440,000 pounds of recyclables and compost from the landfill.
SWACO also offers several other programs for local organizations, like schools, to meet their sustainability goals. In 2021, SWACO partnered with five local schools to provide technical guidance on setting up new or improving existing recycling programs. SWACO provided participating schools with new recycling containers and proper recycling signage to ensure the program’s success and engage students in the recycling activities as part of a school’s Green Team.
Safe and responsible waste disposal
Even amid these programs, SWACO continued to prioritize the safe operation of the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill, a publicly owned entity serving 41 communities in Central Ohio. In 2021, SWACO handled 49,000 more tons of waste material than in the previous year, a particularly impressive feat considering labor shortages faced by industries across the board. SWACO also generated nearly $8.5 million in revenue from the sale of renewable landfill gas, helping reduce emissions and heat 13,000 area homes.
Finally, next year, SWACO will be joined by BQ Energy, AEP and the City of Columbus to break ground on Columbus Solar Park, a 50-megawatt solar array that will generate enough renewable energy to power more than 5,000 homes when it opens in late 2023.
“Our annual Community Impact Report provides an important moment to reflect on our progress, but we cannot lose sight of our vision for the future,” continues Lombardi. “SWACO is proud to continue serving as a catalyst for change for both individuals and business leaders who must come together to collectively push our sustainability goals forward.”
View the entire Community Impact Report at www.swacoimpactreport.org.