Columbus companies work toward Solid Waste Authority's goals for waste reduction

Jess Deyo
Columbus CEO
Ty Marsh, executive director, Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio

The future of business in Franklin County could be in your trash can. What should you do? Move it to the recycling bin.

That’s the message Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) has been working for years to spread—currently, Franklin County recycles 51 percent of its waste, higher than the national average and up from just 34 percent in recent years.

But there’s still a long way to go.

In 2016, SWACO set a goal for Franklin County to recycle 75 percent of its waste by 2032. The goal may be its most ambitious to date, but for executive director Ty Marsh, achieving it is more important than ever to control the waste generated from a rapidly growing population.

Franklin County’s population is 1.32 million people, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, up 160,000 from 2010. And by 2050, SWACO estimates that our residents will produce an additional 600,000 tons of waste each year. Currently, there are 2.1 million tons of waste generated each year, Marsh says.

And while the increase of trash may seem daunting, it’s also opened doors for opportunity.

“There are exciting possibilities for our community in recycling and environmental sustainability—very exciting possibilities because of the strength of our community, our organizations, our community and our commitment to sustainability.”

SWACO is a government-owned entity created from the Ohio Revised Code with headquarters in Grove City. In December, it had 125 employees.

SWACO has spearheaded several efforts through city partnerships and programming to reach its goal including the Recycle Right program, which equips participants with the tools and knowledge to recycle with neighborhood ambassadors, new recycling bins and more.

The program is underway through a partnership with the city of Columbus to help increase recycling efforts in the Hilltop, which has a recycling rate at least 10 percent less than the city’s average of 75 percent, according to the Columbus Department of Public Service.

Hanna Greer-Brown, SWACO’s communications manager who helps facilitate the Recycle Right program, says these efforts are what establishes a foundation for future success.

“It’s knowing how to recycle right so that you can do it at home,” Greer-Brown says. “It’s no longer enough to just recycle—you need to be recycling the right things to have the biggest impact.”

New facilities will decrease food waste, increase renewable energy production

For Marsh, who is retiring in March, one of the most exciting efforts yet is a newly proposed materials recovery facility, which will replace the existing, century-old, privately owned facility currently being used.

The facility, which is still in its approval phase, will be a public-private partnership to allow SWACO to have a better idea of Columbus’ recycling efforts and see what goes in. Having a local facility is crucial to keep the cost of recycling down, Marsh says.

Kyle O’Keefe, director of innovation and programs at SWACO, says they are also working on an organic composting facility to take food and other compostable material. Currently, 27 percent of the waste stream is organics, he says, and 15 percent of that alone is food waste.

SWACO also owns the county landfill, located in Grove City, which offers more insight to what’s being tossed and has been a baseline for multiple initiatives.

“We’ve done some of the arithmetic and have shown that we can feed everybody in Franklin County just by reducing the amount of food that we’re putting into the landfill,” O’Keefe says.

Other efforts include SWACO’s partnership with the Columbus and AEP Energy Partners for the Columbus Solar Park, a 175-acre property that will power over 5,000 homes. All of SWACO’s facilities are also powered by renewable energy, and its waste-to-energy facility provides energy to 13,000 homes.

But even bigger is what may one day become Green Economy Business Park—350 acres of land owned by SWACO in Grove City that could one day house sustainable companies that rely on and supply recyclables and help reduce various forms of waste.

“We know increasingly as recycling has picked up that there’s a growing demand for recycled materials,” Marsh says. “We know that companies are investing in plants to take those materials and convert them into products of higher value.”

Not only will the business park help build Columbus’ reputation as a sustainable city, but it’s projected to foster thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in capital investment, Marsh says. It’s still in its zoning approval phase, but with the help of Rev1 Ventures, SWACO already has businesses in mind that would pair well.

While the business park will pull new companies to the area, Marsh and the team at SWACO already have several existing partnerships with local businesses that have gone green.

Here are five Columbus region companies making a difference.

Aaron Westbrook, founder and CEO, Form5 Prosthetics

Form5 Prosthetics relies on recycled materials, partners with SWACO

Not only did Aaron Westbrook create his own 3D printed prosthetics company while he was a full-time student, but he did it with one hand.

Form5 Prosthetics is a medical device company launched by Westbrook in 2017, months after graduating from New Albany High School. The company specializes in creating prosthetics for amputees and the limb-different community with 3D printers and recycled materials.

Westbrook’s inspiration for his company came from his own experience. While he was born with one hand, he wasn’t fitted for his first prosthesis until he was a freshman, and even then he struggled to find a comfortable fit.

So when his high school received a grant for 3D printers, he began learning the technology and even crafted a prosthesis for his senior project, which was for a seven-year-old girl, Maddie, and was the catalyst for what would become Form5.

“We really create devices that allow [limb-different people] to do new activities, or things that they once were able to do that they can’t do now,” Westbrook says. “It’s understanding where people are today to give them the confidence and the support to do the things that they want to do in their tomorrows.”

Materials to form prosthetics at Form5 Prosthetics.

Since its launch, Form5 has served over a dozen individuals. While it has no paid employees yet, it has around 50 volunteers and offers internships. Westbrook is currently a senior at Ohio State University studying business administration and is set to graduate this May.

And while his top priority is empowering the limb-different community, Westbrook also prioritizes having a green company by relying on recycled materials. Form5 partners with SWACO to continue finding businesses and other outlets to gather materials.

In the future, Westbrook hopes to continue diverting more waste to create opportunity. One day, he plans to scale his company into a nationally, and maybe even globally recognized company.

“Everything comes back at Form5 to one word and its capability. Every single person that we provide a device for, they leave with a new sense of capability,” Westbrook says. “Because of that, they come back to us for more … they’re a part of our family.”

Donna Sikyta, founder and CEO, The Sustainery

The Sustainery diverts textiles from dumps to designers

Working in the fashion industry for over 20 years, Donna Sikyta heard her fair share of horror stories about getting rid of unused fabric. Some would burn it, many would send it to the landfill and others were told to simply “get rid of it.”

Ready to make a change, Sikyta launched her sustainable textile marketplace, The Sustainery. The online company connects factories, manufacturers and those with extra fabric to designers in need.

“What we wanted to do was give small companies that are looking for fabric and looking for resources to build their businesses an outlet to purchase unused, perfectly good fabrics,” says Sikyta, CEO.

In 2018 alone, landfills received 11.3 million tons of textiles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the number largely accounts for already finished pieces of clothing—there are little to no statistics on waste generated from totally unused fabric, which is what Sikyta hopes to bring light to.

Suppliers can post their unused fabric on The Sustainery’s website and designers can buy and receive fabric directly from them, with Sikyta making a commission from the sale. This not only answers the question of what to do with the fabric, she says, but saves startups and new designers from hefty costs.

The startup was launched in July 2021, and some details are still being ironed out, including blogs and other educational resources to shed light on the textile industry. Currently there are two employees including Sikyta.

In the next few years, Sikyta hopes to see The Sustainery go global, but for now, Columbus is an ideal starting place.

“Columbus is the third largest fashion hub for retail brands in the country,” Sikyta says. “There’s a lot of opportunity here, from people that know people, people willing to help us, people wanting to jump on board and get rid of their leftovers. We’re even getting really positive reactions from other companies that have never heard of such a thing.”

Dominique Hadad, Green Scope Consulting

Green Scope Consulting will work to reduce food waste in Columbus

Ever wondered how much food is wasted from grocery stores and restaurants? One 2020 college grad was curious, and now she’s not only working to help companies decrease waste but redirect it to those in need.

Dominique Hadad is a graduate of Ohio State University and recipient of its 2021 President’s Prize, a grant of up to $100,000 given to support a startup in its first year. She received the grant for pitching her business idea on a food waste consultancy that has since evolved into Green Scope Consulting.

The need for a company like Hadad’s was obvious. In a 2019 report, SWACO estimated the economic burden of food waste in Franklin County at $106 million per year. For many businesses, the fault simply comes from missed opportunities, Hadad says.

Green Scope Consulting has three key words to address that issue: reduce, rescue and redirect. She starts first by providing a waste audit to not only identify opportunities to save money, but the items that lead to excess waste in the first place.

“A lot of businesses can tell you they’re wasting X amount of dollars a month, but they can’t always speak to how that’s happening, what’s really going out the door,” Hadad says.

Next steps include looking for innovative ways to decrease the amount of waste generated and identifying sustainable practices. But for the food waste bound to be generated, Hadad strategizes with businesses on places that could benefit from what would traditionally be tossed, for example, stale bread or other bakery items.

Key in helping Hadad with the launch of her company is SWACO, which provided her with information from its Save More Than Food program, that takes a similar model to Hadad’s.

“SWACO was really great about sharing information with me and helping me understand what they have learned,” Hadad says. “It only proves further that this is a need in the community.”

In December, Green Scope Consulting was in its pro-bono phase and worked with 10 companies to finalize a business model. Hadad hopes to officially launch in early 2022.

Adria Hall, founder, Koko

Storefront Koko puts sustainable products in the hands of shoppers

Sustainable living can be intimidating—choose any given daily activity and there’s likely a way to lessen its impact on the planet. So where do you start? Adria Hall says it’s at her sustainable living store, Koko.

Hall founded Koko in 2020 after noticing a lack of convenient resources to reduce everyday waste. Customers in her Hilltop and Clintonville locations are greeted with colorful walls, sustainability mantras and tons of finds meant to prove that sustainability can be affordable and approachable, she says.

Key is finding products that bring out the fun of going green, she says. Her shelves are stocked with products with quirky patterns, how-to’s and energetic personalities that make items like wool dryer balls, deodorant and even sustainable makeup brands more appealing.

“[Living sustainability] can seem boring,” Hall says, “I just felt like it doesn’t have to be that way. Sustainability shouldn’t be boring; you shouldn’t have to sacrifice personality to make better choices.” A shop like Hall’s comes at a critical time—in 2018, landfills received 27 million tons of plastic, according to the EPA.

To fight against the use of single-use plastics, Koko stores are  equipped with a refillery that allows customers to bring in their own bottles or purchase one from the store that they can refill with all the must-haves, from dish soap to detergent to shampoo.

At the heart of Koko is educational efforts, Hall says. A large factor of the business is its social platforms that educate followers, from the everyday consumer to the eco-warrior, on easy-to-achieve ways of living sustainably.

In the next few years, Hall hopes to partner with local businesses to inspire more green choices. The universal message? Even the smallest change makes a big difference.

“Just like any other sort of habit change, the idea of doing it all at once is overwhelming. You’re never gonna do it if you feel like you can’t from the start—tiny changes build confidence and allow you to see that if you can do this one thing, you can tackle another.”

Tia Johnson and the staff of Fresh Bloom Bins

Fresh Bloom Bins give fresh life to those smelly trash bins

When was the last time you cleaned your trash can? Like, really cleaned it? If you can’t remember, you’re probably in the majority.

Tia Johnson remembers the day she took her trash to the garbage can and was greeted by the horrible smell of what was brewing at the bottom. She, like many, was faced with a decision—clean it, or let it get worse, potentially attracting rodents and increasing the odds of waste escaping.

Johnson knew the dilemma was relatable, so she set out to change it. Today, she’s the founder of Fresh Bloom Bins, a trash bin cleaning company for residential and commercial clients.

“The biggest thing is seeing what is going on in the community,” Johnson says. “That gave me a big aha moment to say, ‘OK, what’s the problem, and how can I solve it?’”

The company consists of four cleaning trucks—one equipped for residential cans, two for commercial dumpsters and one for 300-gallon bins that were specially crafted for a partnership with Columbus. It also partners with Rumpke.

To clean the bins, a truck holds the cans in the air and blasts the inside with 220-degree water. Meanwhile, technicians pressure wash the outside of the can. After that, the can is sprayed with a nontoxic, biodegradable sanitizer and misted with peppermint spray, meant to repel rodents.

As the bins are cleaned, the wastewater is collected and disposed of following EPA guidelines. It takes less than a minute to clean each can, Johnson says, and when they work with waste haulers, they clean anywhere from 150 to 500 bins.

Fresh Bloom Bins has four employees, each of whom were formerly incarcerated. As someone who has loved ones who have been incarcerated, it’s become a goal of Johnson’s to have a team of people looking for a second chance.

Additionally, technicians are equipped with educational resources to speak with community members about the importance of sustainability.

In 2022, Johnson hopes to tap further into the residential market, specifically in Westerville, Dublin and Marysville among others.

Jess Deyo is associate editor.