Dec 2, 2021 - News

Work from home? You're probably making more trash

🗑  Tons of trash collected in Columbus
Data: City of Columbus Department of Public Service; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

With more Columbus residents working from home than ever before, city officials are being forced to rethink how they haul away our waste.

What's happening: The city plans to allocate $16 million of its 2022 operating budget to purchase 44 new garbage trucks to keep up with demand. It currently has 159.

Why it matters: As a growing city, we were already producing more trash almost every year. Without additional investments, the city could struggle to keep collections timely and efficient.

  • The pandemic not only caused a spike in overall tonnage — nearly 10% from 2019 to 2020 — but also appears to be changing the types of trash collected, Tim Swauger, the city's refuse administrator, tells Axios.

How it works: With less workers downtown, many public trash cans are sitting empty, Swauger says. But the waste we're wheeling from our homes to the curb is piling up.

  • Now garbage trucks have to take more frequent trips to the landfill during their residential routes to empty out, which takes more time. A single truck typically services 900 homes.
  • The extra vehicles will also allow for extra monitoring of illegal neighborhood dumping in-between weekly collections.

The intrigue: Swauger says the city has enough drivers for the new vehicles, but it could be 12-18 months before the ordered trucks are built and delivered due to supply chain issues.

What they're watching: 2021 is on pace for another year of above-average collection, though not quite to 2020 levels, which peaked to record highs — 25 to 30% more than normal — during spring lockdowns.

What's next: The city's operating budget, unveiled last month to City Council, is still just a proposal. Council members are expected to approve it in February 2022.

Meanwhile, the city continues to promote its curbside recycling program as an alternative to throwing items away.

  • About 75% of the city's trash could be recycled, says Debbie Briner, spokesperson for the Department of Public Service.
  • A "waste wizard" tool on the city's website can help — just type in your item to see if it's recyclable. Common items include steel cans, flattened cardboard boxes, newspapers and plastic and glass bottles.
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