Waste-line increase? Central Ohio haulers have picked up more residential trash during pandemic
If you have noticed your trash cans filling faster while spending more time at home, you are not alone.
Some residential waste haulers in central Ohio say they also have noticed that during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic -- and especially during the state-mandated stay-at-home order that began in March -- customers have been generating more curbside waste.
Eighteen waste haulers operate in Franklin County, according to the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio and some of the largest operators are Rumpke Waste & Recycling, Waste Management, Local Waste Services and Republic Services.
Kathy Trent, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, which serves customers throughout central Ohio and Columbus, said based on volume data and trends, the peak of COVID-19 impacts was during April.
At that point, container weights for residential waste were up as much as 15% to 20%, Trent said.
"While we've started to see a leveling off, we expect elevated waste volumes at the curb to persist as residents continue to work from home and businesses are reopening in phased approaches," she said.
Although operations have been adjusted to the increase in residential waste volumes, Trent said, the change has increased costs for Waste Management due to additional time and labor.
Trent did not reply to a question about quantifying those increased costs.
Gayane Makaryan, a communications manager for Rumpke Waste & Recycling, which serves most municipalities in central Ohio, said Rumpke was seeing up to a 30% increase in trash in some communities during the pandemic, though the increase has tapered off a bit.
Many people are staying at home, producing more trash, Makaryan said. They also are cleaning out spaces, remodeling and doing other home and yard improvements, she said.
More trash at curbs has meant trucks fill faster, which in turn has caused the trucks to need to make more trips, Makaryan said. That has caused delays in service, and Rumpke has been communicating to residents that trash could be picked up later in the afternoon instead of in the mornings, she said.
Rumpke measured the increase according to tonnage collected, according to Makaryan.
"Our auditing team does not have the final numbers for the increase in tonnage for year-over-year, so I do not have specific figures to share," she said. "Those numbers won't post until our budgeting season is over (in the fourth quarter)."
Although the pandemic generated more trash for Rumpke, it didn't create a corresponding spike in recycling, Makaryan said.
Rumpke has observed only about a 5% increase in recycling materials, she said. Rumpke's recycling facility also has been receiving lots of clothing, dog leashes and garden hoses -- items that should be in trash rather than recycling bins.
Rumpke officials are trying to communicate to residents about items that should be recycled, particularly cardboard, she said.
During the pandemic, many people have been buying online more, and boxes at the curb end up in the trash instead of getting recycled, Makaryan said.
Besides being good for the environment, recycling also helps the economy -- in this case, locally. About 98% of the end users Rumpke sells recycled materials to are domestic, Makaryan said.
"We want to make sure that again we are providing these companies with material that they could then turn around and use again," she said.
But although waste-management businesses have seen an increase in residential trash at the curb, that hasn't translated into more waste at the landfill, according to Hanna Greer-Brown, a SWACO spokeswoman.
Greer-Brown said that as the pandemic began in March and people began to stay at home, SWACO actually saw a decrease in the amount of overall waste coming to the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill on London-Groveport Road.
Beginning at the end of March, SWACO observed an 8% to 10% reduction in overall waste, though that has decreased to about a 1% reduction, Greer-Brown said.
"It's very minimal," she said.
Greer-Brown said SWACO weighs every truck that comes into and out of the landfill so it has daily figures regarding how many tons of waste come to the landfill.
"We add those up for the week and month and can compare month-to-month and year-over-year," she said. "We measure the waste based on the number of tons we receive."
The decrease SWACO measured likely was because the largest amount of waste is generated by the commercial sector, which includes businesses and schools, both of which were closed in Ohio during the early days of the pandemic, she said.
Sixty percent of the waste SWACO sees comes from the commercial sector, whereas 40% comes from residences, Greer-Brown said.
As the stay-at-home order went into effect, the amount of waste businesses and schools were creating decreased, she said.
That led to a reduction in overall waste.
"That's a good thing," Greer-Brown said.
The landfill has an estimated 22 years of "life" remaining, and the more material that is diverted from trash to recycling, the longer the landfill can be used, Greer-Brown said.
Meanwhile, much of the waste that ends up in the trash can should have been recycled, she said.
A study SWACO completed last year showed that the landfill receives more than 1 million tons of waste annually, Greer-Brown said.
Seventy-six percent of that material could have been recycled, reused or composed, she said.
The top material that ends up in the landfill is food waste, followed by cardboard, she said.
Cardboard is the most popular material found in commercial waste, and SWACO is trying to motivate businesses to either restart or establish recycling programs, Greer-Brown said.
As businesses close and open in response to the continuing pandemic, many sites are left with perishable food, Greer-Brown said.
Food waste from the food-service industry could be reduced if businesses consider donating that perishable food to furloughed employees or hunger-relief agencies, she said.
Likewise, residents also could consider donating such items as comforters to places like Goodwill instead of throwing them out, she said.
Rumpke offers a list of typically accepted items for its residential customers at rumpke.com/for-your-home/recycling/acceptable-items.
Don't have a recycling bin? SWACO has a drop-off recycling program for Franklin County residents, and more information about it is available at swaco.org/299/recycling-drop-off-program.
SWACO also provides a detailed list of acceptable yard-waste materials at swaco.org/200/yard-waste, and the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District has a program for obtaining a $50 rebate on a compost bin, with more information available at communitybackyards.org/participate.