Each year, Americans produce approximately 254 million tons of waste, 87 million -- or 34 percent -- of which is recycled and composted.

Locally, one million tons of waste is produced in Franklin County alone, with about 32 percent of that recycled and composted.

The startling figure? Some 70 percent of landfill waste could be recycled, nearly double the rate community members are currently recycling.

In order to combat ignorance and increase reutilization efforts, SWACO, or the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, has launched a number of programs aimed at kids, teachers, and community members. Tours, workshops, grants and online games are just a few of the ways SWACO is luring customers to do their part in reducing landfill waste.

Nearly two dozen Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members toured the facility May 10 and participated in an educational program that was more than just “talking trash.” The educational experience opened the eyes of those in attendance as they learned more about the enormous task of taking on Franklin County’s waste while being good citizens and responsible stewards of the enviroment.

The good news is that 96 percent of Franklin County households have curbside recycling which means that in today’s modern society, there is a sophisticated system in which to dispose of waste in a responsible manner. Society has been dealing with waste for ages. The Native Americans used their own sort of management, hunting animals for food and fur, gathering
plants for food and dye, and using other natural resources in a responsible way. But as societies became bigger, more industrialized, and more progressive, new methods of waste management and recycling developed.

SWACO was created in 1989 in response to legislation set forth by the state of Ohio and is publically owned and operated with 115 employees. House Bill 592 requires communities to properly manage solid waste in order to meet waste management reduction goals. As a result, Ohio is divided into 52 solid waste districts. SWACO oversees waste removal in Franklin County and parts of Delaware, Union, Licking, Fairfield and Pickaway – with some 1 million community members serviced.

Most people think of SWACO when they pass by the solid waste landfill located just off of I-71, but it also operates transfer stations and recycling facilities. The Phoenix Golf Links golf course was also once a landfill, but is now enjoyed by golfers from all over the county. Berliner Park was also once a site for waste collection.

The SWACO landfill and its adjacent facilities cover some 1,100 acres, area that still has about 22 more years of life, according to Kyle O’Keefe, SWACO’s Director of Innovation and Programs.

“Our vision is a community that is environmentally safe and resourceful,” he told Central Ohio IFMA Chapter member before their tour of the landfill. “We want to improve the community’s solid waste stream through effective reduction, recycling, and disposal.”

The state of Ohio has set a recycling goal of 25 percent, which O’Keefe points out SWACO is surpassing at present, but there is still much more work to be done in improving on that goal.

SWACO charges $42.75 per ton tipping fee to dispose of waste in its landfill. So what happens to the trash once it gets there? Modern day landfills are designed and constructed with environmental protection systems. A liner system creates an impenetrable barrier between soil and groundwater and what goes into the landfill. A typical liner starts with a composite liner of clay and synthetic material. Clay is compacted to increase impermeability (meaning that liquids can’t get through). A high-density plastic liner is placed over the clay and a drainage layer is installed over the liner. The liner system must meet all state and federal regulations.

Cells, or giant sections where the waste is dumped, are approximately 40 feet deep, leaving 15 feet between the bottom of the cell and the water table.

The environmental protection measures used at a landfill also include a system to collect leachate—liquids from inside the landfill. A perforated pipe is placed on top of the liner system to allow for proper drainage and collection of rainwater and other liquids. A wastewater treatment plant receives and treats leachate at SWACO. Once treated, the water is then safely released into the waterway.

As waste decomposes, a gas byproduct is naturally produced. These gases consist primarily of carbon dioxide and methane, which is the primary component of natural gas. Carbon dioxide, soluble in water, is most likely to leave the landfill with liquids. Methane, however, is less soluble in water and lighter than air, and exists as a gas. The gas is captured using gas-collection wells and is converted to Compressed Natural Gas and electricity.

When a landfill section is full to capacity, it is capped with a final cover and monitored for at least 30 years. A typical cap consists of a synthetic plastic liner that is placed on top, entombing all that was put into the landfill. The liner is then topped with approximately 24 inches of soil and final vegetation.

SWACO is doing its best to be environmentally responsible and reliable, said Jerry Olmstead, an Education Specialist with the authority. It’s key to the success of their business.

“We have to be very environmentally conscious of everything we do,” he told Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members last month. “In the 50s and 60s, it was very common to have open dumps. Wherever they could hide trash, that’s where it’d go. That’s a dump. And we are not a dump. We are a landfill, a sanitary landfill.  And the first thing we always do is protect the environment.”

For more information, as well as photographs of the tour, please check out out Photo Gallery at