Hopefully by now, dropping recyclables into your recycling cart or a nearby drop-off container comes second nature to you. What you may not realize is that not only are you diverting valuable materials from the landfill, but you are also helping support Ohio’s economy through jobs and creating new products. In fact, nearly 400 businesses in Central Ohio are recycling reliant. Together, they support more than 5,000 jobs and generate $1.3 billion in revenue for the region’s economy.
At SWACO we call that a circular economy. Starting with natural resources like trees, water, oil and natural gas, we produce everyday products using those resources. Once we’re done using and consuming, we recycle as much as possible so the material can be made into new products that we once again use, consume, and recycle. Using recycled material in products also requires less energy and creates few greenhouse gases than the use of virgin materials.
Public survey results released by SWACO earlier this summer showed that when it comes to recycling, 92% of central Ohioans think it’s important to recycle. While that is good news, that same research uncovered a major myth. 63% of those surveyed believe that even when sorted correctly, most recycling winds up at the landfill. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Let’s take a look at how plastic bottles get recycled and turned into new products. Plastic bottles, such as water bottles or sports drink bottles, are a common item and easy to identify as recyclable. Once plastic bottles are collected from the recycling bin, they’re transported to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Once at the MRF, the plastic bottles and other recyclables move throughout the facility and are mechanically sorted using a various technologies and conveyer belts to move the materials around. In the case of plastic bottles, optical infrared scanners are used to detect plastic bottles on a conveyer belt which is followed by a targeted blast of air that shoots the plastic bottle into a separate compartment. Once the plastic bottles have been separated, they are then compressed and baled.
The baled plastic bottles are then sold to companies across Ohio who process the bottles into plastic flakes and pellets that then used to produce new plastic bottles. These bottles are then able to be recycled throughout Franklin County’s curbside and drop-off programs.
Two plastic bottle recyclers, Phoenix Technologies and Evergreen, both located in Northwest Ohio, together employ more than 300 Ohioans. These employees process hundreds of millions of pounds of recycled materials per year, turning recycled plastic bottles (rPET) into new bottles and making new products such as food and health and beauty containers used by consumers all over the world. That work also diverts more than 200 million pounds from landfills. Take a look at this video that shows the moment bales of recycled plastic bottles arrive by truck to Phoenix. It shows the entire process of how rPET become clean and reusable plastic flakes sold to other companies to become new products.
Thanks to the active commitment from our residents, Central Ohio achieves above-average recycling participation. But we can and must do better. Currently, Central Ohio’s residential recycling programs captures only 25-35% of #1 and #2 plastics, such as beverage bottles, milk jugs and cleaning and laundry containers. We need your help to grow that number. We ask that you take a few minutes to check out SWACO’s Recycle Right program, which offers easy tips to understand what is and is not recyclable. For example, plastic to-go food containers and party cups(solo)aren’t currently accepted. That is because there currently is not a market for these types of plastic materials.
As SWACO continues to advance a more circular economy and to reach our 75% diversion rate by 2032, we are constantly looking for ways in which materials from the local waste stream can be used to create economic development opportunities, supply sustainable conscious businesses with materials, and create new products for consumers.
Learn more about how we’re leveraging the waste stream in order to benefit the Central Ohio region.