The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) recently released its 2021 Community Impact Report, detailing how it achieved a 51 percent waste diversion rate.
Partnerships with schools, non-profits, municipalities and other organizations amplify SWACO's efforts to recycle and divert. Thr organization operates Franklin County Sanitary Landfill, which manages more than a million tons of waste per year.
Susan Tilgner, SWACO Board of Trustees chairperson, commented in a letter that, "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."
“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," said Joe Lombardi, SWACO executive director, to the media.
The amount of waste in Central Ohio is growing. The report stated SWACO experienced a 4 percent increase in waste volumes from 2020 and generated $8.5 million in revenue from the sale of landfill gas. While the 51 percent diversion rate is far from the authority's ultimate target of 75 percent waste stream diversion by 2032, SWACO touted the current rate as one of the best in the Midwest.
The Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative, a consortium of stakeholders led by SWACO, as well as agency efforts to boost curbside recycling rates have been the catalyst for shaping the region's waste behaviors.
The Community Impact Report detailed the opportunities generated with public education campaigns such as the Save More than Food (SMTF) program, which Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative announced in 2020.
With support via a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SWACO noted the large-scale study completed alongside the City of Upper Arlington and The Ohio State University. Hundreds of households participated in the study, which documented residential behaviors before and after receiving food waste eduction, prevention and composting education.
The study assisted in the diversion of 138,000 lbs. of food waste, and the city of Upper Arlington experienced a 40 percent increase in its food waste drop-off program.
SWACO has collaborated with a total of 10 communities on residential food waste drop-off. Likewise, the organization has generated infrastructure improvements for curbside recycling programs. The report noted SWACO's partnership with the city of Whitehall, Ohio to shift to a pay-as-you-throw program, which worked to incentive residents to recycle more.
"The results are impressive," the organization noted, with 95 percent participation in Whitehall's curbside recycling program versus 26 percent in 2020, an 85 percent rise in the amount of materials recycled and a 21 percent decrease in trash.
The Community Impact Report also placed a spotlight on successes achieved with Central Ohio businesses, most notably through the expansion of SWACO's own staff to provide dedicated resources.
"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," Susan Tilgner, Chair SWACO Board of Trustees. "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."
In 2023, SWACO, along with partners BQ Energy, AEP and the City of Columbus, will break ground on the Columbus Solar Park, a "50-megawatt solar array that will generate enough renewable energy to power more than 5,000 homes."
“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,” Lombardi said. “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.”