Ray Leard swung the plastic bucket back and forth through the brisk morning air to get a feel for its rotting contents.
"Got a full one here," he called out. "Pumpkin for sure."
He still had several hours left of trading Bexley residents' leftover produce, coffee grounds, eggshells and table scraps for empty compost containers. In a week, he'd be back to do another swap.
Someday, food-waste pickup might be as routine as curbside garbage and recycling services. For now, it's an experiment.
"The idea is to make it easy and prove this can work anywhere," said Leard, who owns Innovative Organics Recycling, a compost company in Columbus.
Bexley's pilot program
More people extol the virtues of a zero- or reduced-waste lifestyle during the holiday season, when Americans toss 25 percent more trash and 33 percent more food.
But year-round, most of the trash that ends up in the regional landfill could have been recycled, composted or reused, according to the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.
That's partially because the infrastructure needed to reduce widespread waste is still in early stages, according to regional planners, local civic leaders and business owners.
Regardless, residents are increasingly demanding services to help them reduce their environmental impact.
So it's up to local governments and forward-thinking businesses to experiment, said Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler, pointing to his city's curbside compost pilot program as an example.
"This is a next-generation habit and behavior," he said.
Next year, for the first time in its history, SWACO plans to release a public policy agenda in the hopes of formally boosting grassroots waste-reduction efforts.
"We've got a lot of work and a lot of research to do," said Ty Marsh, executive director of SWACO.
Originally, Bexley officials hoped 300 households would participate in the city's trial compost program. Almost 400 signed up.
"The interest was way more than we anticipated," city Service Director Bill Dorman said.
In other central Ohio cities, electronic waste drop-offs, electric-vehicle fleets, modern recycling initiatives and energy conservation are becoming standard features of local government and business operations.
City leaders in central Ohio say that's because their constituents are increasingly demanding eco-friendliness.
"We're all more aware of the footprint we leave. We all want to do the right thing," Upper Arlington spokeswoman Emma Speight said. In 2018, that city will roll out a new recycling program featuring larger bins.
"By giving them a big recycling container, we think the instinct will be to fill it up," she said.
More than 30 communities have signed on to a regional push to adopt sustainable practices at municipal levels, said Rachael Beeman, an associate planner for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
"Central Ohio is growing. We're going to see up to a million more residents by 2050. That means we have to think more critically about how we use our resources," Beeman said.
Franklinton Cycle Works, a nonprofit bicycle shop in that Columbus neighborhood, receives and sorts through a staggering amount of unwanted material.
Each year, people donate more than 1,000 bicycles that are then fixed up, used for parts or broken down into recyclable aluminum and steel components.
The shop receives so many old bikes that it ends up shipping a portion of them overseas to Ghana, executive director Jonathan Youngman said.
"It's crazy," he said. "It keeps those bikes from either ending up in a landfill or sitting in garages."
Food waste, which makes up almost 13 percent of SWACO's landfill stream and produces planet-warming methane emissions, is an increasingly popular target of local initiatives.
One group, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, provides enough food for 155,000 meals each day -- 70 million pounds of food a year -- much of which is recovered from major grocery stores, food distributors, farmers, hospitals and restaurants.
Leard also receives overwhelming interest at his compost company.
A pilot program near Ohio State University has more than 90 percent participation, he said, and Clintonville residents signed up in droves when he first set up a tent at the neighborhood's farmers market. Leard said he next hopes to install curbside food-waste pickup along the High Street corridor in the Short North.
"The issue now is people want the service and it's not there," he said.
In Pittsburgh, composting is a regular feature across the city's stadiums, universities and convention center.
It makes SWACO's Marsh jealous.
"That's an ideal situation. We don't have the infrastructure here," Marsh said.
In central Ohio, commercial enterprises, schools and hospitals contribute 60 percent of the landfill stream. Part of the challenge is that recycling is treated like a commodity, Marsh said.
"If a restaurant wanted to do good waste recycling, they have to find their own solution in their own backyards, pretty much."
Cardboard is only collected because it's cheaper for companies to recycle cardboard than it is to process raw timber. The same is true of glass and aluminum, but not for yogurt containers and Styrofoam. That leaves local businesses to tailor their own green solutions.
Vincent Valentino spent 2017 trying to work out where to put Land-Grant Brewing Company's solid waste -- other than in the garbage.
Now, local cattle farmers feed their animals the Columbus brewery's spent grain. Since March, farmers and gardeners have used 1,200 gallons of Land-Grant's spent yeast as a soil enhancer and compost accelerant.
"If we treat it like trash, we'd create a problem," said Valentino, the brewery's sustainability manager. "Right now for a lot of these practices, we're in the early adopter phase."
There's no way around it: It takes a fair amount of time and thought for a business to inch toward zero-waste. But it's an investment with economic and environmental payoff, Youngman said.
"I'm expecting it will become second nature," he said.