How Recycling Plastic Bottles Generates an Economic Ripple Effect in Ohio

When Ohioans drop in or drop off their recyclables, they might not realize that in addition to diverting trash from the landfill, they are also supporting jobs, consumers and Ohio’s economy.

In fact, nearly 400 businesses in central Ohio are recycling reliant. Together, they support more than 5,000 jobs and generate $1.3 billion in revenue for the region’s economy. Most of the recycled materials are used to make new products sold across the globe. That cycle is referred to as the circular economy.

Public survey results released by the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) in 2022 showed 92% of central Ohioans think it’s important to recycle. However, that same research uncovered a major myth: of those surveyed, 63% believe even when sorted correctly, most recycling winds up at the landfill. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The truth is that recycling does work, and it works here in Ohio, with 80% of recycled material becoming new products in our state,” said Joe Lombardi, executive director at SWACO. “If we didn’t have a strong recycling infrastructure here, hundreds of millions of pounds of materials would end up in the landfill.”

Take plastics as an example. Companies across Ohio use pellets made from the recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in single-use plastic bottles, which are accepted throughout Franklin County’s curbside and drop-off programs, to make new products.

Phoenix Technologies and Evergreen, both located in northwest Ohio, together employ more than 300 Ohioans, who process hundreds of millions of pounds of recycled materials per year, turning recycled single-use plastic bottles into new bottles and making new products such as food, health and beauty containers. This video shows how recycled PET becomes clean and reusable plastic flakes, from the moment bales of recycled plastic bottles arrive by truck at the Phoenix Technologies plant to the time they are shipped off to become new products. That work also diverts more than 75 million pounds from landfills.

And Evergreen, which employs approximately 170 people at its facility in Clyde, is the largest single PET recycling site in the U.S., producing roughly 217 million pounds per year of recycled PET. Most of Evergreen’s process is turning recycled plastic bottles into new bottles.

The recycling economy in Ohio and beyond

According to the Ohio Beverage Association (OhioBev), the American beverage industry is a vital part of the country’s economy. It provides more than 272,000 jobs nationwide and has a direct impact of more than $247 billion. National beverage companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig, Dr. Pepper and PepsiCo are carefully designing 100% recyclable bottles and caps with the hope that they are recycled and remade into new bottles, which is promoted through the American Beverage Association’s “Every Bottle Back” campaign.

Recent investments include a 2020 project to modernize the recycling infrastructure in Pleasant Township and Whitehall, in collaboration with SWACO and the Recycling Partnership as part of Every Bottle Back. The project is expected to collect more than a half-million additional pounds of PET.

“The beverage industry is proud of our strong central Ohio roots and our partnerships with communities to invest in the region and increase sustainability,” said Kimberly McConville, executive director of the Ohio Beverage Association. “This increased materials collection will help us to use more recycled PET and less new plastic.”

Currently, Franklin County’s residential recycling program captures only about 25% of No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, such as beverage bottles, milk jugs, and cleaning and laundry containers. SWACO is constantly looking for innovative ways to help grow that number, whether it is through its Recycle Right program or the opening of two new recycling convenience centers, announced last month by SWACO and the City of Columbus.

What should central Ohio businesses know about recycling?

In addition to residents, central Ohio’s businesses also need to step up their recycling game. According to SWACO, 60% of what goes into the landfill comes from the business sector.

A recently announced partnership with WM (Waste Management) and Rumpke Waste and Recycling will help more Franklin County businesses start recycling programs and reduce their reliance on the landfill. SWACO’s Business Recycling Champions program provides local businesses with financial incentives and technical assistance needed to start a recycling program. As part of the program, both companies have agreed to monitor and share information about the types and quality of materials being collected. They’ll also advise businesses participating in the program on the type and quantity of recycling services needed to ensure a right-sized recycling program.

“Central Ohio’s business community is an important partner in our region’s ability to meet our waste diversion goals,” said Lombardi. “When we can find common ground and work together, our communities, businesses and environment reap the greatest reward.”

This article was originally published on COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST and is re-published here with permission. 


Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO)

The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) serves Franklin County and neighboring areas with solutions for solid waste. We are one of 52 solid waste districts created by the Ohio General Assembly in 1989. These districts were established with the mission of reducing reliance on landfills. SWACO provides consumers recycling opportunities around Franklin County at our recycling drop off-locations.

CGLR’s business and sustainability network programming is supported by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

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