Sherman officials estimate that only about 2,500 customers are participating in the city's recycling program, following the decision to make it optional for city residents late last year. The change came after concerns of contamination of the recycling materials, and changes in the global recycling market that made the service more expensive for the city.

In October, the Sherman City Council moved to amend the city's recycling program to only accept cardboard and newspapers, but then backed away from some of these changes a month later when it decided to allow residents to recycle aluminum, tin and steel cans, certain plastics and made the program opt-in for residents.

“We are really not surprised by 2,500, to be honest,” Director of Finance Mary Lawrence said.

The program was mandatory for the city's nearly 12,000 solid waste customers before the change, but Lawrence said many simply used the recycling bin as a second garbage can.

The changes to the program in November merged the recycling fees into those for solid waste pick up and allowed residents the use of two bins for recycling or trash. As an example, residents could have one trash and one recycling bin, or two trash bins, Lawrence said.

“A lot of people were happy to have a second trash can,” Lawrence said, regarding the November change. “A lot of people were also disappointed to see recycling efforts diminished. … It is mixed, a little of both.”

The use of the recycling bin as a second garbage can led to significant contamination of the city's recycling stream with outside material and food. Sherman also saw what Lawrence described as “wishful recycling,” where residents would put things, including grass clippings and glass, in the recycling bin in hopes that it might be recycled.

“You can wish all you want, but it isn't recyclable,” she said.

Sherman's recycling issues stemmed from a global shift in the market in 2018 when China started an anti-pollution program that required waste paper, metal and other materials to be 99.5 percent free of contaminants like food waste, glass, foam or other materials. By comparison, U.S. single-stream recycling plants typically produce material that is at most 97 percent pure.

Sherman's recycling runs would regularly come back with contamination of upwards of 30 percent, Lawrence said. Some contaminants would lead to an entire collection being excluded and sent to the landfill.

Since the transition, Lawrence said the quality of recycling collections have increased. A recent test of a collection from Sherman found only 11 percent contamination, but some others have been estimated to be closer to 25 percent, she said.

Despite the drop in participants initially, Lawrence said the program has seen a slow increase in residents who have opted in each week. She tempered expectations, however and said it would be a slow process to get the majority of the city participating.

The city is considering increasing its education efforts about the program over the next fiscal year, Lawrence added.

Meanwhile, Denison city officials hope that changes with its solid waste collection service will increase its recycling participation. Starting Monday, the city will transition from traditional trash pick-up to an automated service using specialized bins and a truck equipped with a mechanical arm.

Assistant Public Works Director Carrie Jones said the transition to automated service will limit residents to one 95-gallon bin for trash pick-up each week. With the limitation, Jones said she is optimistic that some residents will recycle more.

Unlike Sherman, Denison contracts out its recycling services to a company called Waste Connections, which first contracted with the city in 2013, Jones said. This outside service allows residents to recycle plastics No. 1 through No. 5 and No. 7, paper, cardboard, drink cartons, metal cans, glass jars and bottles.

The transition to automated waste pick-up will not affect the recycling program directly, as it is conducted independently, and the transition will still maintain the same schedule, Jones said. The city has not been affected by the changes to the global market primarily because it works through a private company rather than doing its services in house, she said.

The Sherman council has an update on its recycling program on the agenda for its meeting Monday.