"Recycling projects have grown from being a handful of pilot projects begun during the environmental movement of the sixties to over 3,000 community recycling centers now in operation nationwide. There are about 250 curbside collection programs, of which 40, including Recycle Ann Arbor, collect multiple types of materials such as newspaper, glass, cans, cardboard, and motor oil." - Ecology Report, vol. 14, no. 8, Nov. 1982
Oil Recycling Program
Following its 1982 merger with the Ecology Center, Recycle Ann Arbor expanded both its geographic coverage and capacity to process a variety of materials. While curbside recycling of household waste remained the organization's flagship program, RAA also added recycling initiatives in response to new recycling legislation. These undertakings formed part of the Ecology Center’s ongoing promotion of energy efficiency and waste reduction.
The RAA began an oil recycling program in 1981. This undertaking emerged as a result of House Bill 5461, which mandated the implementation of state-wide oil recycling programs. Instead of disposing of oil as general waste, recycling reduced the potential for toxic chemicals to enter the environment. The preferred option for oil recycling was termed “re-refining.” This process entailed filtering contaminants like lead from used oil. Despite only 23 re-refining stations operating nationwide, the Ecology Center’s oil recycling stations guaranteed that recycled oil would be re-refined.
Second Refrigerator Bounty Program
Towards the end of the decade, the Ecology Center and Recycle Ann Arbor participated in the Second Refrigerator Bounty Program, a recycling initiative that also promoted energy efficiency. Supported by a grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission and administered by the state's Office of Energy Programs, the bounty focused on older, energy-inefficient refrigerators in households with more than one refrigerator. Available to both low- and high-income residents, the program included distribution of educational materials on energy efficiency, proper disposal of coolant chemicals, and the recycling of mechanical parts.
Over ten months in 1988-89, the program reached 371 participants throughout Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, Scio, and Ypsilanti townships. Collecting 138 refrigerators - 34 of which were still fully operational and subsequently donated - the bounty initiative gained recognition at local and national conferences from organizations like the Sierra Club, the Backyard Eco-Conference, and the Michigan Public Service Commission Annual Energy Conference. After a successful pilot, appliance recycling continues to be offered by many utilities throughout Michigan.
Aileen Gow, an Ecology Center staff member in the 1980s, describes the second refrigerator project at the Ecology Center and explains how she and a coworker developed the project into a statewide program later in her career:
"Because we did the program as a pilot here [at the Ecology Center] as an example, we were pretty fearless about [it], well [we thought], we can do our own program. How hard is it, you know? We did it with a circus truck!" Interview with Aileen Gow, June 7, 2019