SOUTH PORTLAND — Since its inception last May, a pilot program to collect food waste has increased recycling rates in two participating neighborhoods.

About 600 households in the Knightville and Meetinghouse Hill neighborhoods received 6-gallon buckets to use for curbside compost collection. Additional bins were set up at the transfer station on Highland Avenue for residents who do not live in the pilot-program zones.

The city and ecomaine, the regional waste management service, estimate up to a third of household waste is from food.

Recycling has increased in the two neighborhoods by nearly 10 percent, from 29 percent to 38 percent, and 30 tons of waste were collected from May to November, 2017, according to data provided by the city’s sustainability office.

Four tons of food waste have also been collected at the transfer station.

The compost is delivered to ecomaine, aggregated with business food waste, and then sent to Exeter Agri-Energy in Exeter, where it is combined with cow manure in an anaerobic digester. The machine converts the matter into electricity, a liquid by-product for fertilizer, and a solid material for animal bedding or compost.

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability coordinator, said at the beginning of the program that the objective is to gather data on participation, waste diversion, and the cost-effectiveness of adding curbside food waste collection to the city’s waste management program. The city is aiming to recycle 40 percent of its waste by the year 2020, she said.

She said the program has been well received, and feedback has been positive.

Rosenbach said food waste is a large portion of trash collected by the city, and even though about a third of people in the neighborhoods using the program also compost, waste such as meat and oil that do not break down in backyard composting can be picked up by the city.

She said there is a 37 percent set-out rate of households who use the buckets each week, but said the participation rate is slightly higher.

The pilot program has cost the city about $40,000, she said.

Rosenbach said the goal is to take the program citywide, and residents in other neighborhoods have inquired about its expansion.

Residents will be surveyed both before and after the program to gather feedback she said.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext.,106 or at [email protected]

A compost bucket a South Portland curb along with the city’s trash and recycling bins. The city is conducting a pilot program to collect food waste in an effort to increase recycling rates to 40 percent by 2020.