COLUMNS

From Waste to Resources: SWACO leverages waste stream to support economy, create jobs

Ty Marsh
SWACO

Much of the material we throw away and send to the landfill has potential economic value.  

We already know, for example, that cans, glass, cardboard and some types of plastic have value because they can be recycled and turned into new products. But what other material in our waste stream has value and how can we leverage it for the economic benefit of central Ohio?  

Ty Marsh

Those are the questions that help drive SWACO’s economic-development strategy. We want to find ways to use residential and commercial waste to support the region’s economy while still protecting the environment.  

We’ve already begun to implement parts of our strategy.  

In July, for example, we leased the county’s former landfill, between Jackson Pike and Interstate 71 in Grove City, to BQ Energy, a New York company that specializes in developing wind and solar projects on former community landfills and other brownfield sites. BQ Energy will build a solar farm on the property, turning an otherwise unusable piece of land into a source of clean, renewable energy and incremental revenue.  

We’re also seeking to rezone part of our property to create an industrial park for companies in the recycling business, which would bring capital investment and jobs to the region. And we recently announced another piece of our economic-development strategy – a partnership with Rev1 Ventures to attract and support pioneering new businesses focused on waste diversion. 

More:From Waste to Resources: Discarded food has economic, environmental and social costs

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

Each day residents and businesses in central Ohio send about 1 million tons of waste to the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill.  

SWACO conducted a study last year and found that 76% of the material being thrown away has the potential to be recycled – some of it with the existing recycling infrastructure and some of it with the addition of new programs or services. Collectively, these materials have a value of approximately $23 million that could be leveraged to benefit central Ohio.  

Although Franklin County’s 50% recycling rate exceeds the national average, we’ve set a robust goal for residents, schools and businesses across the county to reach a collective diversion rate of 75% by 2032. That means within 12 years, we hope to keep an additional 25% of the waste we create out of the landfill through reuse, recycling and composting.  

We’ll need the help of innovative businesses to achieve this goal. So we’ve teamed with Rev 1 Ventures, a Columbus-based startup studio.

Rev1 provides both venture-capital funding and strategic-support services to new companies in various industries to accelerate the development and commercialization of new products, services and technologies. This is an exciting opportunity to foster innovation in central Ohio and expand the region’s recycling industry, which includes nearly 400 businesses employing more than 5,000.  

Initially, Rev1 will focus on companies engaged in food-waste reduction because our data and research indicate this area offers one of the best opportunities for improvement. Food scraps make up 15% of the material in the landfill, more than any other category. Yet of the companies in central Ohio’s recycling industry, very few of them collect, process, recycle or compost food waste and other organic material. We recognize that in order to revolutionize the way we reduce and manage food waste, we must tap into our community of innovators. By aligning with Rev1, we’re able to better identify and support the startups that will help us accelerate this field.  

Once we’ve made progress reducing food waste, we’ll eventually expand our work with Rev1 to include startups involved in other aspects of recycling and waste diversion.  

We’re confident that by encouraging innovation, piloting new technologies and supporting long-term growth opportunities, we not only will reach our waste diversion goals but also will provide significant economic value to central Ohio in the forms of new businesses and new jobs.  

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