Franklin County Recyclables Avoid Landfill Despite Changes in China

Ty Marsh Ty Marsh Franklin County Recyclables Avoid Landfill Despite Changes in China
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Recently there have been news stories about disruptions in residential recycling across the U.S. due to China’s restriction on the import of recyclable materials which have made many in our community wonder if their recycling efforts were going to waste. 

Thankfully, recycling continues to be alive and well in central Ohio. 

For years, China took about 40 percent of our country’s recycled materials, but recently stopped accepting recycled material from the U.S. unless it had a contamination rate of 0.5 percent or less, a standard too strict for most cities to meet. Fortunately, Franklin County’s recycling program isn’t one of them.

So, how is our recycling program able to weather the change when other communities across the U.S. are considering ending their programs? The answer is simple: Franklin County’s household recycling program is not dependent on China or other foreign markets.

You are probably aware by now that virtually all of the material collected in central Ohio through our household recycling program goes to Rumpke’s material recovery facility, where it’s sorted by type and bundled for sale. However, you might be surprised to learn that Rumpke sells over 98 percent of the material it handles to domestic buyers, many located right here in Ohio! As a result, you can have confidence knowing that the recyclables you put at the curb each week are not being landfilled, but are being recycled and given new life as new products made from an Ohio-generated resource.

Unlike some areas that are experiencing a reduction in recycling services, Rumpke is actively seeking additional recyclables at their Columbus facility, and has made significant investments in the facility within the last few months to improve the efficiency of their processing. This speaks to a little-known aspect of this issue: recycling is good for the central Ohio economy and is a job-producing activity.

SWACO recently completed an economic impact study indicating that over 370 businesses in the region are part of the industry, employing an estimated 5,000 workers with a payroll of about $235 million. 

One great example of this impact is the construction of a new recycled paper mill and corrugated box factory in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Construction on this $310 million project by Pratt Industries began last year, and the first phase is projected to be complete by the end of this year, creating 100 new jobs (300 jobs when the second phase is complete in 2020). 

It’s a safe bet to say that some of the paper that residents in central Ohio put in their recycling bins will make its way 90 miles up route 33 to feed that new paper mill. While there is no question that China’s policies have created a disruption in the markets for recycled materials, in the long run China’s policies are likely to create additional new investments in domestic processing and end-use of recyclable materials. 

This is not to say that there are no challenges for recycling in central Ohio. China’s policy has pushed the value of some recyclable materials lower. We are seeing some increase in the cost of collecting and processing these materials, although not nearly as dramatic as in some other parts of the country. The situation has also put a premium on the quality of the material collected. To address this, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) has initiated a “Recycle Right” public education campaign, working closely with local communities to educate residents about what can and cannot be recycled. SWACO has also launched a residential recycling cart initiative to help communities purchase recycling carts for their residents – a practice that not only encourages more recycling but also lowers the cost of collection in the long run. 

Learn how to Recycle Right by visiting RecycleRight.org

Recycle Right is brought to you by SWACO, Franklin County’s resource for solid waste diversion and disposal. SWACO seeks to reduce the community’s reliance on the landfill as well as meet state mandated diversion goals by providing waste reduction, reuse and recycling programs and services to residents and businesses in 41 central Ohio communities, totaling more than a million people. Last year, Franklin County reached its highest rate of diversion on record – 49 percent. In addition to diversion programming, SWACO is the only Solid Waste District in Ohio to own and operate a landfill and which provides the organization with a holistic and unique perspective on the local waste stream.

For more information, visit swaco.org.

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