Unity Area Regional Recycling Center is no longer accepting most plastics because of worldwide market conditions.

UARRC, a nonprofit formed in Thorndike to divert recyclable material from the solid waste stream, is owned by eight member towns: Dixmont, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Montville, Thorndike, Troy and Unity.

According to UARRC's Facebook page, China, the world's largest importer of plastics, has clamped down on imports from the United States and other countries, causing a worldwide void in demand for the recyclables.

"Our vendor no longer has a market for this commodity," said Stan Besancon, co-manager of the center.

To make matters worse, domestically, the U.S. does not have the infrastructure, or interest, to manage the materials, Besancon said in a UARRC Facebook post.

"… Our nation, among many others, did not invest in the infrastructure needed to process this material here, for use here, since sending it to China was not only more economically feasible, but was profitable," he said.

Plastics labeled with numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, which are typically used for lettuce containers, plastic ware, straws, trays, lids and caps, regardless of color, as well as yogurt/sour cream and butter spread containers, among others, will no longer be accepted.

The UARRC does still accept No. 4 stretch films and wraps, as well as natural and colored No. 2 HDPE plastics such as milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, peroxide bottles, windshield washer and vinegar bottles, and many others.

Besancon said UARRC stopped taking rigid plastics — 5-gallon buckets, tubs and totes, toys, outdoor furniture, milk crates, coolers and large water containers — back in April 2017.

Staff members have known the change was on the horizon, but it wasn't until the beginning of the year that China stopped accepting a long list of imported plastic, Besancon said. At the same time, the country implemented stricter guidelines for what it was willing to accept.

"We've been searching for the last 18 months for a 'Plan B,' as we knew our current outlet may disappear with the shifting markets," said a recent UARRC Facebook post. "We have come up short in every aspect of searching."

The system in place worked great for many years, according to the website waste360.com. Shipping containers once filled with Chinese goods coming into the U.S. returned to China full of recyclables, where manufacturers then used the product as raw material.

However, the quality and cleanliness of the recyclables shipping to China started to deteriorate over the years with many items containing food, trash and other contaminants, the website states, and it became costly to sort and dispose of in Chinese landfills.

According to Besancon, the recycling center in Unity has not been affected too much by the changes.

"Folks who were weekly are now stopping in bi-weekly," he said. "The volume has dropped but that is due to folks coming in less often."

Perhaps it will be a good shift in the end, making people more aware of their choices, he said.

Besancon said he hopes the change will spur people to be more "conscious of their buying decisions" but concedes "grocery shopping will prove ineffective before you can get what you need without using plastic."

Both Besancon and co-manager Jeff Reynolds said staff at the recycling center are always looking for and reaching out to see what vendors, trends and new technology are out there, so the center can get the "best bang for the buck."

Reynolds said there is a pilot program in the Southeast U.S. that uses pelletized plastic converted into fuel, but said it is still several years from being widely available.

Ecomaine, a Portland-based nonprofit that handles recyclables for about a third of Maine’s population, is able to accept, for a fee, mixed plastics from residents whose centers can no longer find a buyer, according to a Morning Sentinel article.

Besancon said while this sounds promising, the plastics are usually burned and converted to electricity in the waste-to-energy facility.

For a complete list of acceptable materials at UARRC, go online to uarrc.org.