The Government of Nunavut (GN) has put out a tender inviting contractors to formulate a plan for a territory-wide solid waste management approach, mainly looking at innovations in Greenland and Alaska and how to apply them, to “increase opportunity for waste diversion and waste-to-energy production, and implement regular backhauling of hazardous waste to protect public health and the environment.”

The long-term goal, in short, is an efficiency that has been sorely lacking, in communities that were told how to sort and handle garbage but not given appropriate infrastructure to complete the end-of-life for these piles of varying degrees of hazardous waste.

The GN stated in 2014 that “Many dumpsites are at capacity, do not have proper segregation or storage of hazardous waste, have no leachate or runoff management, and have no means to control public access to the dumpsite. The lack of past proper management and appropriate infrastructure at these sites is posing a threat to the health and safety of Nunavummiut and the environment.”

This is urgent work for the health of our communities and a problem that only continues to grow as we study best practices.

Pollution and smoke from open burning of garbage are common worries, as well as potential contamination of water sources by wind-blown litter and the impact that contamination could have on aquatic ecosystems and hunting grounds.

A March 23 Oceans North report warned that local solid waste landfills and wastewater lagoons are ill-equipped to handle the volume and toxicity of the waste they store. They can’t keep getting bigger, either, when the additional land they would occupy is needed for housing and other infrastructure deficits.

Oceans North suggests governments set a goal of reducing waste by half across the North by 2040.

The only way such a lofty objective can be achieved is through a comprehensive strategy that includes recycling and reusing materials as much as possible. Reducing waste sounds easy, on paper, but when you take into account the huge amount of pre-packaged goods making their ways to store shelves and that almost anything affordable comes wrapped in plastic or a box it adds blame to the consumer level, which isn’t where the blame really lies, particularly in remote Nunavut.

The Oceans North report states the private sector should implement extended producer responsibility programs to products, making companies responsible for the environmental costs associated with proper disposal of their products.

This would be reasonable, as long as that responsibility doesn’t trickle back down to the consumer in the form of even higher prices on goods already more expensive than elsewhere in the country.

Recycling is also something that can be led by community members.

“Some would say that comprehensive recycling in the North is a wide-eyed, naïve, impossible dream but I would argue that we just need more cooperation, transparency, and determination,” said teacher Jennifer Thompson, who started Qarmartalik School’s recycling program in Resolute Bay and whose class stuffed a seacan with 27,000 cans last summer to be recycled in the south. She spoke of environmental stewardship being an IQ principle we teach our youth and reflected on the community involvement and enthusiasm that can drive a recycling program forward.

Iqaluit received $35 million in funding to replace and upgrade its solid waste facilities, including recycling and composting capabilities, a project intended to be finished in 2020, but delayed now to 2023.

With a deadline of end-of-year for the possible outline of a territory-wide solid waste management plan to be delivered, we have to wonder how much longer it will take for communities to see their concerns addressed.

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