The decade RAM was formed there were many people in the recycling and solid waste field wanting to educate Minnesotans about recycling. Community recycling programs were just getting off the ground and there was little infrastructure to deal with recycled materials. The professionals in this field needed an outlet to educate and empower people to understand the importance of recycling, that it is something we can all do, and it is easy.
The Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM) was founded in 1989 by numerous volunteers, many who became founding board members and members of the organization. A great deal of care was taken by our founding board and stakeholders to determine what type of organization RAM was going to be. RAM became a non-partisan professional and public education organization where members from both the public and private sector could come together on neutral territory for educational and networking opportunities. The initial guidance of the RAM board still shapes how our organization functions today through our bylaws and our mission. The first board chair of RAM was Susan Schmidt; the second was Commissioner Victoria Reinhart (1990 – 1993).
RAM’s first executive director was Lola Schoenrich, who functioned as a contract executive director through the Minnesota Project. A few examples of early RAM projects and work include: keeping members informed of legislative updates, America Recycles Day, working with the beverage container industry and the plastics industry to increase beverage container recycling. These programs were unique as RAM has helped create successful partnerships between government and industry. “The partnerships have been the one thing really making RAM so unique and successful,” commented Commissioner Victoria Reinhart.
The second executive director was Fran Kurk, who has been in the environmental field in Minnesota for many years. Fran was with the organization from approximately 1992 – 1994 as a contract executive director who helped to continue to build RAM’s membership and coalitions.
One long-time executive director, Paul Gardner, was RAM’s first full-time staff person and with his expertise, RAM truly became a professional organization. He was integral in the success of numerous projects and programs for his nearly ten years of work with RAM beginning in 1997. He also spent time at the capitol building educating the Minnesota legislature about the importance of continued SCORE funding for local governments so they could maintain their recycling programs. A few examples of his other projects include: RAM’s continued work on the America Recycles Day campaign, educational videos, the Recycled Products Guide and the RAM/SWANA Annual Conference & Show. In 2010, RAM celebrated the 15th anniversary of this event. In 2005, RAM also hosted the National Recycling Coalition’s Annual Conference in Minneapolis.
From January 2007 to December of 2012, Ellen Telander served as RAM’s executive director. Under her direction RAM shifted focus to creating opportunities for education and niche recycling opportunities for the general public. A few of these programs include the Recycle MORE Minnesota Education Campaign, Message in a Bottle™, Key to Recycle™, Recycle Your Holidays™, Run in & Recycle™ and our annual rain barrel and compost bin distributions. These programs recycle beverage containers, keys, holiday lights and shoes; all of these programs employ vocational center clients and are free for participating businesses and residents. These programs have expanded statewide and have been successful through partnerships with vocational centers, media outlets such as WCCO, our members, other professional associations and Minnesota businesses.