From Waste to Resources: SWACO using data to continue progress in landfill diversion

Ty Marsh
Guest columnist

Everything we do at SWACO is rooted in data to measure the effectiveness of our efforts and provide insight to inform future initiatives.  

We believe data can drive real change and make our community a more sustainable place to live and work.

Ty Marsh

Our Waste Characterization Study, for example, examined what is thrown away in central Ohio and identified food and cardboard as the best opportunities to divert more recyclable material from the landfill. Study findings shaped programs that contributed toward a 50% diversion rate last year, the highest rate on record for our community. 

With input from more than 100 partners, we created the Food Waste Action Plan that lays out solutions for addressing food waste in Franklin County. Priority action items include promoting existing services and programs, supporting school curriculum and in-school diversion programs and creating a consumer in-home awareness campaign.

SWACO

Our Food Waste Diversion Education study is a partnership between Ohio State University and the city of Upper Arlington to measure the effectiveness of our food-waste diversion efforts in positively impacting awareness, attitudes and behaviors. Through this study, we’re able to better understand what makes up a resident’s waste stream and understanding of food-waste challenges and whether our campaigns are effective in driving behavioral change.

More:From Waste to Resources: SWACO continues process toward environmentally safe community

More:From Waste to Resources: Central Ohio communities prioritizing sustainability

Findings from the survey indicate our efforts are working, as 96% of residents believe that efforts to reduce food waste make a positive difference in our community. As the national conversation on food waste continues to grow, SWACO – as one of only a few communities nationwide with its own food-waste campaign – is positioned to provide a framework for other communities across the country to create its own food-waste diversion efforts. 

Our recycling-education efforts, including our Recycle Right campaign, are helping people understand the benefits of recycling, acceptable materials and proper ways to recycle. We piloted the program in 2018 in Grove City, Jackson Township and the village of Urbancrest.

Results from a 2019 survey indicated that 62% of those responding said the campaign helped them understand more about what can and can’t be recycled, 55% said they learned something new from the campaign and 13% said they recycle more frequently as a result.

The city of Gahanna has been an apt testing ground. When we distributed mailers in 2019, we saw a 60% reduction in bagged recyclables at curbside. Our testing continues this year as we work with the city to dive deeper into which materials are contaminating the waste stream and educate residents on the proper ways to manage waste.

And, finally, we’re excited about a pilot program with the city of Columbus that will test ways to make it easier for apartment complexes to recycle. The pilot will launch this summer with 10,000 units across the city. During the process, we’ll test and gather data to help create a future multifamily housing-recycling program.

As always, SWACO can’t do the work we do without your support.

Thank you, central Ohio, for helping make our community a more sustainable place to live. 

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.