Seeing her passion come to life

September 12, 2023

It’s been a long and eventful journey for Carrie Anne Micheal. All the way back in 2015 she looked at the way that trash was managed in her community, and knew that it wasn’t good enough. Not for the people who live there, not for the planet and certainly not for generations to come.

Seeing the way that dumpsters full of unsorted garbage polluted local land and water before being sent straight to landfill, Carrie Anne was inspired with a mission to make a lasting change. And she got to work right away.

“I knew that I needed to educate myself, to learn how a community like ours can do waste management the right, responsible way,” she says. “I could see the problem, so I set out to learn how to be a part of the solution.”

Beginning with a 2-year diploma in Natural Resources and Environmental Technology at NSCC, Carrie Anne moved on to CBU in 2018 to complete a Bachelor of Engineering Technology for Environmental Studies, one of the first degrees of its kind.

Carrie Anne Micheal (R) talks to residents about the new solid waste management program.

“The support I got from teachers and peers was just what I needed to help me believe in myself, and that I could help to lead this important change,” she says.

And what a major change it is: thanks to Carrie Anne’s leadership, and strong support from partners and the community, We’koqma’q First Nation Band is phasing out unsorted dumpsters for its trash, and has established weekly curbside collection for garbage and recyclables for its approximately 280 households.

Sharing the knowledge

As a remote and sparsely populated region, Cape Breton has not always benefitted from the same momentum to prepare for a climate-conscious future as other parts of the country. But across the island, municipalities and communities are working hard to keep pace with the necessary changes.

A large part of the challenge of waste management is educating and engaging with the people who produce trash – which is every single one of us.

Waste sorting bins were distributed free to We’koqma’q households.

“Landfills are a waste solution that has limits as it is one direction. And once the landfills are full where do we go next?” asks Shannon MacLean, Reuse coordinator with the municipality. “We need circular solutions that are more sustainable and can meet the challenges of climate change, clean water, and environmentally responsible land use.”

“Carrie is leading the way with recycling and responsible disposal of hazardous materials. She’s identified that her community can save financially and environmentally by sorting waste in the home and adding programs that benefit all,” says Shannon.

Public education has helped get We’koqma’q residents set up and ready for the change. Support is high: people want to do their part for the community and the planet. But as we all know, there’s a learning curve with sorting our trash the way it needs to be done.

So Carrie Anne and partner G-Man Waste Removal did what they had to, and went into the community to explain, encourage and answer questions with open house and door-to-door events.

Wide support

“I was nervous going into the public education phase, because you have to be prepared that people may be resistant to the change you’re asking them to make. I knew we were going to have to answer a lot of questions,” says Carrie Anne. “But I was confident that I could reassure people because what we’re doing here is a win from every angle.”

A group of residents attending an waste management info session in We'koqma'q.

Telling people about the effects of leachate or “garbage juice” that seeps through the metal dumpsters and into streams and life-giving lake waters was a powerful selling point. And Carrie Anne also has hard facts to rely upon thanks to her data analysis and waste auditing expertise.

“Landfills are filling up fast and humans have to take our responsibility. When I see the percentage of our waste that can now be diverted from landfill, and not just the environmental but the economic benefits that brings, I can’t keep quiet about it! I’m here to respond and help my community learn.”

Aside from all this Carrie Anne is also a mother and a fisher – this sure has been a busy spring balancing time on the boat, at the office, at home and at work in the community. A lot of the inspiration came from her daughter, Scarlett, now aged 8. “When we were kids we learned about this stuff at school but it seemed like we didn’t do anything about it. Well, I guess I’m a do-er! And I want to show my daughter and her generation that they can be do-ers too.”