THORNDIKE — Officials at Unity Area Regional Recycling Center received a high-profile guest last week.

Photographer Gabe Souza of The Washington Post stopped by June 11 to document activity at the center for an article by Post senior writer Frances Stead Sellers.

Sellers’ story highlights how many recycling centers across the state have had to either cut back the amount of material they accept or close since China stopped taking much of the country’s plastic waste in 2018.

To make matters worse, the $70 million Fiberight Coastal Resources of Maine facility in Hampden, which promised to provide state-of-the-art recycling for more than 100 municipalities, shut down in June 2020.

UARRC is depicted as a facility that has figured out the right mix to make recycling efforts viable. The center currently supports recycling for its eight member towns and nonmembers can purchase a pass to participate in recycling for an annual fee of $30.

Recently the center began accepting glass again after installing a glass crushing machine that converts bottles to sand. The high-tech apparatus was purchased with a grant aimed at diverting waste from landfills. Besides glass, the center accepts paper, plastics, metals, textiles and electronic waste.

Between the increase in online shopping because of the pandemic and the quantities of boxes and bubble wrap now heading to landfills or incinerators, Maine legislators have been working on a bill that would require packaging manufacturers to share in the cost and responsibility of recycling or disposal of their product.

The Extended Producer Responsibility bill, if it becomes law, would be the first in the nation to shift some of the costs of recycling to manufacturers rather than taxpayers. The bill would levy fees on manufacturers based on the weight of packaging material sold. The revenue would then be used to support municipal recycling. The bill would also create an incentive for companies to reduce wasteful packaging.

Nine other states have proposed similar product stewardship bills this year, though according to online publication Resource Recycling, several have failed to gain traction, Oregon’s legislation being an exception.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine says big corporations already pay for recycling programs in more than 40 countries and five Canadian provinces through extended producer responsibility programs, some of which have been in place for more than 30 years.

Bill advocate Rep. S. Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, who is also chairman of the UARRC board and has worked alongside Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, the bill’s sponsor, said he hopes Sellers’ article will bring additional towns to UARRC that are looking to find a solution for their recycling needs. The additional revenue would help reduce the costs to member towns.

In a conversation with The Republican Journal June 18, Zeigler said the EPR bill was passed in the House and Senate and is now headed for the governor’s desk, where he expects she will sign it into law.

“The bill will help rejuvenate recycling in our county and assist in reducing costs for municipal solid waste,” he said. “This is a big step forward for reducing solid waste and we will be in the forefront followed by other states” that currently have similar product stewardship bills in the works.

The proposed legislation is not without critics who say costs paid by manufacturers would be passed on to consumers, though advocates say there is little evidence to support this claim. Businesses and national trade groups also say it would be expensive, disruptive and hard for companies to understand.

In an email to The Journal, Sellers said her article is “a reported story, reflecting both the voices of people who back this bill and those who do not. It is not a piece of advocacy for either point of view.”

To read the Washington Post article, visit