Updated: Sep 15, 2021
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Michelle Cohen’s grandmother sparked her interest in sustainability. As a child of the Depression, she taught Cohen frugality and how to consciously use items. As Cohen grew older, this turned into an interest in sustainable practices.
After earning a master’s degree in environmental science, she joined the Brown County Solid Waste Management District as Director. While there, she planned a recycling center, which she said energized her.
“The idea that we can innovate and do things in a smart and efficient way, it’s really motivating to me.”
As she drew up plans, she became a member of the Indiana Recycling Coalition (IRC) to connect with professionals in her field. She expanded her expertise through connections and insight in waste management.
Four years later, she led the IRC as the second Executive Director. During her tenure, Cohen educated Indiana residents about electronic scrap and how to properly handle e-scrap. At the time, electronic waste was unknown territory for many. Cohen expertly distributed knowledge to help households understand more about their gadgets and appliances.
“It was really great to get to know so many people across the state,” she said. “It was wonderful to be able to coordinate different professionals in the recycling arena and help them get important information and work in a coordinated way to solve special problems such as e-scrap.”
After eight years with the IRC, Cohen transitioned into waste reduction consulting. To her, recycling is the key to inspiring people to be more sustainable.
“Starting with recycling makes an impact on folks,” she said. “It’s a gateway into learning what they can do and gets peoples’ habits formed. It then leads into learning about other things they can do that are not as talked about.”
She’s adamant that everyone can find fun ways to get into sustainability.
“It can be an interesting challenge to yourself to think about how you can increase sustainability. It’s actually kind of a neat challenge. If you like to solve problems or riddles, it could be fun to see how you can have an impact on waste.”
When she looks toward the future, she’s hopeful that the next generation will make sustainable decisions naturally. She’s inspired by the work done in schools to help educate the next generation.
“Now children are thinking about reducing waste. I’ve seen more of a shift in mindset and that is very exciting and motivating.”
Written by Lindsay McGuire