After a resident question, Sherman officials recently clarified which items were acceptable as part of the city’s recycling program.

During a recent City Council meeting, Sherman resident Peter Tracy asked for clarity on what items were acceptable, specifically in terms of pizza boxes.

“There is a broad statement on pizza boxes,” Tracy said. “Well, I buy pizza but I don’t buy delivery pizza, so is my pizza box not acceptable? There is no food or waste on it — it’s just cardboard. Whereas a delivery pizza box gets contaminate on it from the food.”

Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch confirmed for the Herald Democrat that all pizza boxes are acceptable as long as they do not have food or grease on them. The pizza box question came during a presentation on Sherman’s revamped recycling program from Director of Finance Mary Lawrence.

“Our participation in the program right now is about 2,500 customers,” Lawrence said. “That’s about 20 percent of the total number of the solid waste customers. We’re also happy to report the stream is significantly cleaner. We had been experiencing contamination of 25-30 percent. The last load we had analyzed, we had about 11 percent (contamination), that’s a huge improvement.”

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. Lawrence said that shift resulted in the city having to pay as much as $50,000 a month to keep the program going as it was. Lawrence said Sherman paid an average of $7,000 per month over the last two months for the program.

“On Dec. 31, we had about 2,000 (recycling participants), so we’ve added almost 500 since then,” Lawrence said. “Every week, we have people changing their carts out. Most people are opting in but we do have people who decided they don’t want to do it.”

Council member Sandra Melton said she was optimistic customers would sign up once they understood the process better. Council member Willie Steele asked whether there was a way to know how many people were participating in the recycling before the changes and Lawrence explained everyone had a can but most were using it as a second trash cart.

Lawrence said not every customer has been given a yellow lid on their cart yet but the city is trying to order more to ensure everyone would be able to get one in the near future. She said even though there are people who don’t have the lids the city is keeping track and picking up their recyclables accordingly.

Lawrence said the city is also working on identifying the customers that are still contaminating the stream. She said the hope is to identify them and correct the issues on an individual basis.

City Manager Robby Hefton told the council Sherman is planning on preparing at least two more informative presentations before the budget workshops this summer. He said recycling is only a small part of a bigger subject on cleaning up the city.

“It’s really important to put the last few months in context,” Strauch said via email. “The city of Sherman came very close to scrapping its recycling program in late 2018 due to run-away costs. To look at what’s happened in the last four months — we now have an engaged, educated customer base of 2,500 participants — is really something.”

Lawrence also told the council about a planned meeting with a recycling processor Sherman hoped would give the city better terms and help pay for some of the cardboard it is no longer getting paid for. Strauch said the city considered those negotiations positive and the firm was expected to submit a proposal at a later date.

Herald Democrat reporter Richard A. Todd can be reached at