From Waste to Resources: Everyone can help divert waste from landfill

TY MARSH
Ty Marsh

Since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March, our waste stream has reflected what we've experienced.

Not surprisingly, as we quarantined at home the first couple of months, we produced more residential waste than normal. We were consuming more goods, cooking more meals and working on more projects at home. Waste haulers who serve central Ohio communities saw a fairly significant increase in curbside waste pickup -- as high as 30% compared to 2019.

But the spike in residential waste didn't result in more waste at the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill, as you might expect. In fact, the landfill, which SWACO owns and operates, received 8% to 10% less waste than usual, a trend that continued through April, May and part of June.

The reason behind the incongruity is that 60% of the material in the landfill comes from the commercial sector; residential waste makes up just 40%. With businesses, restaurants and schools closed, we received much less commercial waste than usual. The decrease in commercial waste offset the increase in residential waste, resulting in an overall reduction in the total amount of waste brought to the landfill.

Reducing waste is a good thing. The landfill has approximately 42 more years of service based on the available space. The less we put into the landfill, the longer it will last. That's why so much of SWACO's work centers around waste diversion or ways we can do something else with our waste instead of putting it in the landfill.

As our economy continues to open, we encourage residents and businesses alike to engage in waste-diversion activities like recycling and composting to help minimize the amount of waste sent to the landfill.

Recycling is a relatively simple way to divert waste, yet studies show that 40% of household recyclable material still gets thrown away.

Central Ohio's curbside-recycling program was designed to make recycling as easy as possible. It accepts metal cans, paper and cardboard, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles and jugs and such cartons as juice boxes and broth containers.

Most communities even provide recycling containers so residents can collect recyclables throughout the week and take them to the curb on trash-pickup day.

Donating items that you no longer want or need is another easy way to keep material out of the landfill. Plenty of organizations, such as Goodwill, Volunteers of America and the Salvation Army, accept donations of everything from furniture and electronics to clothes and kitchenware. Donating is a great way to reuse items while helping neighbors in need.

If you have items you don't know what to do with, you can use our search tool at recycleright.org. It says where and how you can donate, drop off or dispose of dozens of items, including motor oil, plastic bags, household cleaners and more.

Food waste accounts for 14% of the material in the landfill, more than any other material. So it's especially important that we find ways to reduce the amount of food that's thrown away.

Composting is a solution, and it's not as difficult as you might think. SWACO's website, swaco.org, explains how to compost and turn food scraps into a nutrient-rich soil enhancement.

If you must throw something away, please prepare it properly for the trash.

Unlike recyclables, which should be kept loose, all trash should be bagged before it is put in the trash and placed at the curb. Also, never put household hazardous waste in your trash. Such items as gasoline, oil-based paints, chemicals and cleaners can cause damage and injuries, so they should be taken to the household-hazardous-waste facility at 645 E. Eighth Ave. in Columbus for proper disposal or recycling.

We know our local business-community members have a lot on their plates trying to keep workers and customers healthy and safe.

But there are ways they, too, can reduce waste in the landfill, like recycling corrugated cardboard. Right now, businesses in central Ohio actually send more of it to the landfill than any other material.

Yet manufacturers need recycled paper and cardboard to make toilet paper, paper towels, new corrugated shipping boxes and other fiber-based products that we use every day.

Finally, we encourage businesses that sell or serve food to donate perishable food to local hunger-relief agencies, such as Food Rescue US and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. They even can share it with furloughed employees.

SWACO has set a goal to reach a 75% waste-diversion rate by 2032 and to cut food waste in half by 2030. Both of these targets will help extend the life of the landfill by many years.

Reducing the amount of waste we send to the landfill every day really isn't hard, but it's going to take everyone's help to make a difference.

Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about its operations may be directed to him at questions@swaco.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.