The city of Sherman saw modest growth in its recycling program in its first year as a voluntary program. City officials said Friday that about 2,740 of its solid waste customers — down from 12,000 in 2018 when it was mandatory — had signed up for the program by the start of 2o20.


In late 2018, the city briefly voted to reduce its program to only accept cardboard and newspapers. These restrictions were reduced a month later when the city moved to allow the recycling of aluminum, tin and steel cans and certain types of plastics. This change also made the program opt-in for residents.


“We feel we are fortunate in Sherman that the City Council stepped up and found a way to make the program continue so that we can continue to offer the service to the people that really value it,” Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said.


With the changes to the program, Sherman residents had to opt in and dedicate one of their two waste receptacles to recyclable items. In late March, city officials estimated that about 2,500 of the nearly 12,000 solid waste customers had opted into the program, and an additional 240 joined throughout the rest of the year.


Strauch said that while the program represented new waters for the city, these numbers followed what city officials expected. The program saw an initial large number of customers join with slower, gradual growth following.


In late 2018 there were several factors that led the city to reevaluate the program. At the time there was a noted misuse of the program as many customers would simply use the recycling bin as a second trash can, resulting in a slow down in processing.


“A lot of people were happy to have a second trash can,” Sherman Director of Finance Mary Lawrence said in 2018, regarding the November change. “A lot of people were also disappointed to see recycling efforts diminished. … It is mixed, a little of both.”


The program was also hindered by what Lawrence referred to as “wishful recycling” — where residents would put things in the recycling bin that they hoped might be recyclable. These items included grass clippings and glass, among other things.


The issue with contamination of recycled products partially stemmed from a change in the global market when China, a major importer of recyclable products, required that waste paper, metal and other products be 99.5 percent free of contaminants and food waste.


By comparison, U.S. single-stream recycling typically produced material that was 97 percent free of contaminants. In 2018, Sherman’s recycling runs would see upward of 30 percent contamination.


“The global picture is very much the same, but new markets have opened up in other developing countries,” Strauch said, noting countries like India and Malaysia has picked up a small portion of China’s former market. Despite this, some American municipalities have completely ended their recycling programs due to the changes in cost and feasibility.


For 2020, Strauch said he doesn’t expect any major changes to the program as it is still early on. The coming year will likely see a continuation of education efforts as the city tries to inform residents of the program and what they need to do to keep the program moving smoothly.


Strauch said the amount of contamination in Sherman’s recycling has fluctuated over the year, with early samples dropping into the single digits. Recent tests have been in the high teens and approaching 20 percent. If this continues, Strauch said the city may reevaluate and determine the best answer.