Earth Day 1970

History and Accomplishments

After the first Earth Day in 1970, community activists in Ann Arbor, Michigan formed an organization to develop innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy environment.  Among their demonstration projects and campaigns, the group created a visionary program for recycling – the first of its kind in the state of Michigan, and one of the first in the country.  Naysayers said it would never catch on, that a few guys with pickup trucks couldn’t change the way people thought about their trash – and they certainly couldn’t change the way communities deal with the environment.

We proved them wrong.  The Ecology Center’s recycling program grew year after year, evolving into a wholly owned green business.  Large waste industry interests tried to block us, but we overcame their influence with persistence and innovation. Our programs have been honored among the country’s finest, and are often looked to as a model by other communities.  And, as people have pitted the environment against the economy, we’ve proven that sustainability pays.

All kinds of arguments get waged against us – that consumers won’t pay more for green products; that voters won’t cast ballots for environmentalist candidates; that green business can’t compete in a free market.  The Ecology Center and our allies have proven them wrong again and again.  

For example, in Michigan:

  • Between  1995 and 2005, while developers were converting open space into McMansions and strips malls during the real estate bubble, the Ecology Center created one of the largest local land preservation programs in the country.  Over 10,000 acres of the best working farms and natural areas of southeast Michigan will be forever saved as a result.
  • While industry lobbyists repeatedly blocked efforts to strengthen air and water pollution rules, the Ecology Center led a statewide campaign that closed every single one of Michigan’s 157 medical waste incinerators – the second leading source of mercury and dioxin emissions into the environment.

And nationwide:

  • Over heavy resistance from the auto industry, the Ecology Center won federal mandates to remove lead and recover mercury from vehicles in the United States, taking millions of pounds of toxic chemicals every year from our roads, our soil and our landfills.
  • Since 2007, as parents were besieged with frightening news about toxic chemicals in consumer products and popular toys, the Ecology Center developed a unique resource – the Healthy Stuff website – that tells you if your pet products, your car seats, or your toys, have lead, mercury, or other toxic chemicals. Millions of people used our research, which proved that information has power: several manufacturers cleaned up their products in response to the publicity.

The work of the Ecology Center and our subsidiary, Recycle Ann Arbor, have been featured in every major newspaper in the country, and profiled in hundreds of television, radio, and new media stories.  Below are some of our other top achievements:

  • Led campaign to enact Michigan’s Right-to-Know Act (1986)
  • Provided environmental education program for over 100,000 students (1980- )
  • Led campaign to enact Michigan’s ban on mercury thermometers (2004)
  • Michigan ban on certain brominated fire retardants (2004)
  • Led campaign that closed municipal waste incinerator in central Wayne County (2005)
  • Winner of national Top Community Recycler award (2005 – Recycle Ann Arbor)
  • Led campaign that created federal mercury switch recovery program (2006)
  • Created country’s first state-level Green Chemistry program (2006)
  • Led campaign that led to federal ban on lead wheel weights (2009)
  • Installed major clean energy improvements at 66 Michigan schools (2009-2011)
  • Led campaign to expand transit service in Washtenaw County (2014)