After diverting at least 80,000 pounds of food waste from a landfill, Bexley has expanded its curbside composting program to the entire city.

Bexley started offering the service in a limited capacity in November 2017. The 14-month pilot program included about 400 households, but now every resident of the city's more than 4,000 households can opt in and have food waste picked up once a week.

The program, which started Feb. 11, reflects Bexley's desire to reduce the amount of trash it sends to landfills, said Mayor Ben Kessler, who noted the city developed a zero-waste plan in 2017. Bexley officials believe the city is the first in Ohio to offer food-waste recycling to residents.

"We're aiming to drop our solid-waste footprint as much as possible," Kessler said.

Food waste makes up 13 percent of the landfill stream of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, said Kyle O'Keefe, SWACO's director of innovation and programs. That makes food the third-largest category of waste, he said, and reducing the amount of food waste has become one of SWACO's priorities.

"Composting is definitely a much, much better alternative than a landfill for food waste," O'Keefe said. "But ideally, individuals and businesses should be thinking about ways to prevent that food waste from occurring in the first place."

Food waste put into a landfill emits methane gas as it decomposes. Methane, like carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Yet the environmental impact of food waste is sharply reduced when it's properly composted, O'Keefe said. That's because carbon sources such as leaves or hay are added to the food waste, reducing the amount of methane it produces as it breaks down.

Bexley is covering the program's cost, estimated at about $5 per household, Kessler said.

The city has a one-year contract -- with two one-year extensions -- with Innovative Organics Recycling. The company, which has operated the pilot program, will provide compost buckets to residents and will come around weekly to collect the food waste. Currently, it picks up the waste on Mondays.

Kessler said many people had misconceptions when the city started the program, such as where to keep the compost bucket and whether the food will cause an unpleasant odor. Keeping the lid on makes that a nonissue, he said.

There is also the obvious question about what kinds of food can be composted.

"I tell people, 'If it grows, it goes,' " said Ray Leard, owner of Innovative Organics Recycling of Columbus.

Leard also said his company puts the food through an industrial shredder, so Bexley residents can place chicken bones and meat scraps in their compost buckets.

"The problem with backyard (composting) is you can't process any proteins because the critters start coming," Leard said.

About 750 Bexley residents have opted into the program, said Bill Dorman, the city's service director. He said the city expects about 30 percent of households will sign up for the first year, with that figure rising to about 50 percent by the third year.

The city also is giving all residents recycling bins in February through a SWACO grant, Kessler said. The city hopes to boost its recycling participation rate of roughly 75 percent.

"As the community sees how successful this program is, and what benefit it provides to the environment and their sense of well-being and their own knowledge about what's happening with waste sources, I think we're going to see increasing adoption," Kessler said.