Members of the Sherman City Council received an update on the city’s solid waste and recycling programs Friday as officials took early steps toward drafting a budget for the next fiscal year. The update came following changes to collections by the city in late 2018.
Early conversations by the council included preliminary talks of adjusting the solid waste rate scale amid growth and a short update on the performance of the city’s recycling program. Council members are expected to talk more in depth on this and other budget topics later this summer during the city’s annual budget workshop.
“Things are heading in the right direction, we’ve made significant improvements in cleaning up our waste stream,” City Manager Robby Hefton said, referring to recycling. “We are not there yet, but we are a whole lot closer than we were a few months ago.”
Last fall, the council changed the city’s recycling program to make it optional for residents, and limited what could be accepted. The council voted initially to limit the program to only accept cardboard and newspapers, but that was expanded a month later to allow aluminum, tin and steel cans along with certain plastics.
Sherman officials said in March the recycling program had only had about 2,500 of the city’s 12,000 solid waste customers opt-in for the program. However, the city had seen a decrease in contamination from food products and other things that could prevent an entire load of material from being reused.
The focus on purity of the city’s recycling stream comes amid shifts in the global market that started in 2018 when China launched an anti-pollution program. This initiative required materials imported for recycling be 99.5 percent free of contaminants. The purity for American single-stream recycling plants peaks at about 97 percent.
Sherman Director of Finance Mary Lawrence said the recycling downturn did impact the city’s solid waste fund, which saw a decrease in fund balance in 2018 over the previous year.
“The recycling environment has really hurt that fund because of the disposal costs,” she said. “We have also lost $100,000 in revenues that we used to receive from the sale of our recyclable materials. Not only are we having to pay, we are not getting revenue, so it has been a double whammy.”
Hefton said the commercial solid waste program has seen a nearly 25 percent increase in use over the past year, but the growth has also brought issues. While the service is up, so are the costs of disposal, he said.
The city manager said one of the issues Sherman is facing is based on the way the city calculates cost to its commercial customers and the types of material that have been disposed of. Sherman charges its commercial customers based by volume, but the city’s disposal costs are based on weight, Hefton said.
With the recent growth in construction, Hefton said many of the materials that are being discarded by builders are heavier and denser than traditional commercial waste. As such, the cost to dispose of them is higher than most other commercial uses.
Hefton said another aspect that is being discussed as the city considers adjusting the solid waste rate is upcoming changes at the Texas Area Solid Waste Authority. The site has become the primary disposal site for many Texoma communities, but Hefton said a secondary site in Luella might reopen soon. This could lead to a reduction in the inflow to TASWA, which could in turn affect the city’s rate in the future.
Hefton said these factors and others will be explored as the city approaches its budget planning in June.