SWACO Lifts Recycling Restrictions

On March 1, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio’s board of trustees approved a resolution that waives all SWACO fees for those who recycle source-separated materials. In other words, if a business chooses to separate recyclables for collection in Franklin County or a contiguous county, it won’t be charged SWACO  fees on those products− as long as they are processed locally.

According to SWACO, the resolution, also known as the Green Economic Incentive Plan, could save businesses that collect source-separated recyclables $9 per ton in fees, as under current state law recyclables are considered municipal waste and subject to fees collected on trash.

“The goal of this policy is to boost economic development by boosting recycling locally,” says SWACO Spokesman John Remy. “If the demand for recycling increases, then it is hoped that more recyclers will begin operations in Central Ohio, thus creating more jobs.”

One company that is now up and running thanks in part to the incentive plan is Eartha Limited.

“I invested and became an owner in Eartha when I realized that going zero waste for our restaurants would be impossible until a restaurant-specific recycling company that focused on recycling food scraps was built,” says Elizabeth Lessner, CEO and president of Betty’s Family of Restaurants.

“Food waste is extremely heavy,” she explains. “Watermelon rinds, corn cobs, lettuce ends, and broccoli stalks take up a lot of space very quickly. Unlike paper or other cleaner waste, food waste will attract vermin and other problems very quickly, especially in the summer. We needed a way to store food scraps in a place that is secure and that waste needs to be picked up frequently to avoid problems with vermin, odor of bugs. Until Eartha was here, we had no way to quickly and efficiently recycle this waste.

“Eartha has been waiting since July 2010 for SWACO to remove restrictions to food waste hauling and we finally obtained the go-ahead from SWACO on March 1. Since that time, we’ve been scrambling to purchase trucks and get our on-site biodiesel processor up and running. Our trucks will be fueled by restaurant grease generated from the restaurants we serve. We will pick up all food waste from our restaurants and that waste will be hauled to a local anaerobic digester where the gases will be converted into fuel and the leftover part will be reused as rich potting soil.”

At first blush, SWACO’s incentive plan is very promising for those currently in the recycling business, companies that want to be greener, as well as businesses that have stayed away from Columbus because of SWACO’s controls and recycling fees, says Steve Grossman, president of Grossman Environmental Recycling Inc.

However, after examining the plan he has concerns.

One, the plan addresses businesses that collect source-separated recyclables, but ignores recycling companies that “bring in material contaminated with non-recyclables, separate the good from the bad, sending the good off to consumers and landfilling the trash,” he says.

Two, take a company in northern Franklin County that decides to separate as the plan indicates, but can landfill in an adjoining county at a lower tipping fee with less travel time, he says. Why hurt their efforts by requiring them to landfill or go to a SWACO transfer station?

“Other cities encourage recycling and the free market by staying out of recycling altogether,” he says. “Only waste that is landfilled or otherwise disposed of is regulated and the cost of doing this is what encourages companies to minimize the amount of waste through recycling.”

Remy, though, is quick to point out that SWACO’s mission, as charged by the Ohio legislature when it created solid waste districts in the late 1980s, is to reduce reliance on landfills.

“The promotion of recycling and waste production is part of our job,” he says.

Less than a year ago, SWACO claimed it needed every pound of non-segregated materials into its landfill for economic reasons, Grossman says.

“Certainly public sentiment is helping the green causes, but, rest assured, this plan was not perceived out of the goodness of SWACO’s leadership,” he adds.

That might be true. However, Remy contends that SWACO was promoting recycling “long before the mainstream got on board.”

For example, SWACO provides Franklin County residents with the largest drop-off recycling program in the country, currently serving 225 locations with more than 1,000 containers for collection, he says.

“Since SWACO took over the recycling drop-off program in 2004, recyclables collected from residents has increased by over 100 percent,” he says.

For his part, Grossman remains unimpressed, saying that concerns like the ones he cited need to be addressed.

“We all want Columbus to be as green friendly as it can be, but SWACO has a lot of control so everyone must  keep up the pressure to make us the best green city we can be,” he says.