Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
The "top of the pile" at the SWACO landfill in Franklin County is home to scavenging sea gulls looking for a quick meal and a place to warm their feathers as Solid Waste Authority haulers add more trash to the ever-growing manmade hill near I-71.
The "top of the hill" is a great place to be if you are a sea gull seeking a free meal, especially if your dining options change with the next hauler dumping a load of trash at the SWACO landfill.
While the gulls might not notice any change in gastronomical offerings, operation of the landfill perched at the edge of I-71 near Grove City changed hands on Jan. 1 and is now solely under the control of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.
Prior to the start of the new year, Waste Management oversaw day-to-day operations.
"Historically, SWACO took the position it wanted to involve the private sector in landfill operations to do what they do best," said Ronald Mills, executive director. "What we began finding out, by involving the private sector, there was also the need to pay taxes and satisfy their shareholders with profits."
Mills added, "With SWACO, there are no shareholders, so we started asking ourselves how much could we save if we operated it ourselves? We began a study in 2005 and made the decision at the beginning of 2007 to let the contract with Waste Management expire at the end of the year."
According to Mills, the southwestern Franklin County site is one of the largest landfills in the United States and one of 10 of the largest publicly owned sites. Finding a manager to take control of the technologically-advanced site was SWACO’s next challenge, since there are only about 200 individuals with the expertise and experience to handle such a large operation.
SWACO did not have to journey far to find the right person.
"We wanted someone with experience on a site of this size," continued Mills. "The nationwide pool of experienced candidates is about half the number of basketball players in the NBA and we found Jack (Stacy) in the Mansfield area. He brings the necessary ingredients to operate the site – a knowledge of environment and efficiency."
Stacy said it was not just the challenge of running the landfill, which began initial operations in 1986, which attracted him to the position, but also the ability to work at one the premier landfills in the nation, with programs extending beyond the scope of day-to-day business.
"I look at this as the last stop for everything, but it also goes one step further," commented Stacy. "There are opportunities to do things here you can’t do anywhere else. The landfill was fabulously engineered, before we even started hauling in trash. There really is zero discharge from the landfill, and our ultimate goal is to be a non-land filling landfill."
Originally occupying 80 to 100 acres with a lifespan of 20 years, an EPA-approved expansion, which began in 2003, will push the limits of the landfill to 240 acres in another 25 years, based on a 1995 design. The initial hill will be ringed horizontally by a series of large, lined, trash-holding cells dug deep below the ground.
Gas reclamation is also incorporated into the design.
"As we move forward and as each new cell is filled, we have to ask ourselves, ‘what do we do with the gas once we collect it?’" said Mills. "One option is to control it through a flare, which reduces greenhouse gasses by 95 percent, but the real question is is that the best use? To destroy it at our own cost?
"So, we began looking at other options, such as gas engines generating electricity to sell or use on site. In striving to advance the art of the technology, we discovered a Cleveland company that can clean landfill gasses, remove things like CO2, and end up with pipeline quality natural gas."
SWACO is also participating in pilot projects involving compressed natural gas, polystyrene recycling, and biodigestion. An $8.3 million facility is under construction on Jackson Pike, which will produce RASTRA, a recycled Styrofoam and cement material. RASTRA is an insulated foam construction system providing a permanent framework for a reinforced concrete grid by forming load-bearing walls and other building components.
It is manufactured by grinding polystyrene and mixing it with cement.
Polystyrene makes up about 6 percent of what is sent to the landfill (annually 87,000 cubic yards by volume). The project is expected to generate 47 jobs within three to four years and funded, in part, by a $2 million loan from the Ohio Department of Development.
RASTRA was used in the construction of My House, a partnership between SWACO and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The house is an education center located at the entrance to the North American region at the zoo, which focuses on human influence on habitats and surrounding environments.
At the Center of Science and Industry, four giant kiosks illustrate how material is broken down to be recycled as computer screens show the route recyclable materials take from their original state to raw product and then back into a new product again.
The best and most innovative waste reduction programs of 2007 will be honored during SWACO’s Third Annual Central Ohio Emerald Awards presentation on May 7. Communities, organizations, businesses, schools, and individuals will be honored in six categories: leadership, partnership, innovation, entrepreneurship, environmental education, and litter clean-up.
Featured speaker for the Emeralds luncheon is actor Ed Begley, Jr. Known for arriving at Hollywood events on his bicycle, Begley serves as chairman of the Environmental Media Association. He also participates on the boards of many other environmental organizations and his work has earned awards from many groups. He is the co-star of the HGTV series "Living with Ed," a look at the day-to-day realities of "living green," with his wife Rachelle Carson.
Award nominations must be submitted by 5 p.m. on March 14 and information is available at swaco.org/Emeralds.aspx.
"We are mandated to promote waste reduction, reuse, and recycling," continued Mills. "And we promote it in order to reduce reliance on landfill technology. Our ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business."