The city of Sherman is moving forward with plans to indefinitely suspend its curbside recycling program later this month. The move by the city comes as the city is facing budget concerns amid an expected sales tax shortfall, changes in the global market and contamination.
City staff cited the cost effectiveness of the program and how little was ultimately being recycled as part of the decision to suspend the program. Under the current arrangement, the city would pay its provider Waste Connections $150 to take recyclables. However, the majority of these items were ultimately sent to the landfill due to contamination.
“Staff’s recommendation is that effective June 15 that we will suspend the curbside program,” City Engineer Clint Philpott said.
The issue with contamination partially played into the city’s decision to modify its recycling program two years ago. The changes culminated in the city making its program opt-in, with about 2,700 solid waste customers joining the program.
At the time, global markets had shifted and China, the largest importer, had set high high standards for how little contaminants and non-recyclable material would be allowed. While China’s standard was close to 99 percent purity, some of Sherman’s loads contained about 30 percent contamination, officials said.
“Flash forward two years and the contamination has been reduced, but it is still not great,” Philpott said.
Despite efforts to increase purity, Philpott said there is still a high level of contamination in the city’s recycling stream, to the point that Waste Connections is taking the loads to the landfill. In total, only about 0.3 percent of all waste ends up recycled, he said.
While Waste Connections charges $150 per ton, city officials said that the city’s cost to go to the landfill is just $35 per ton.
With the decision to suspend curbside services, the city is slated to save $600,000 going into the next fiscal year. Of this cost, $250,000 is from the service itself, with the remainder related to equipment purchases needed by solid waste for the program.
In lieu of the curbside recycling, Philpott said the city will open a recycling station at its community drop off location on East Street. There, residents will be able to sort there recyclables and drop them off for collection and processing.
If this arrangement is long term, Council member Josh Stevenson asked that the collection site be moved to somewhere more convenient for residents to access.
“I would want to wait and make sure the current location is being used and used responsibly because if we put it in a location that is more convenient but not manned with an employee it will not be used appropriately,” Philpott said.
“If we are saving $600,000 by getting rid of curbside, I think we can afford an employee,” Stevenson responded.
For her part, Council member Sandra Melton said she saw this as only a temporary measure until conditions improve.
“This isn’t an abandonment of the recycling program as we know it, it is really ceasing the curbside portion of that until the market recovers ... and a further cleaning up of the stream by getting people to think differently about this,” she said.
Among those who spoke during Monday’s meeting was Peter Schulze, director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Austin College. Schulze attributed the issues with the program on a lack of education about the program and what can be recycled.
When looking at the concept of recycling, it is important to look at beyond the actual item that is being recycled and instead at the process. For a single tin can, there can be substantially more that goes into processing.
“Environmental problems are always where it is cheap in the short term but high in the long term,” he said.
Schulze noted several places in the city’s documents on the recycling program where it could be refined and a more thorough explanation added.
“If you don’t know you are doing something wrong, you don’t go around looking for how to do it right,” he said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.