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Northern communities at risk without proper waste management: report

Communities in north at risk

A report from Oceans North says communities in northern Canada face serious risk if their long-standing waste management problems are not addressed.

The marine conservation group says northern communities produce a similar level of waste to cities in the south, but have fewer ways to deal with it.

"This means that while Inuit Nunangat communities do not seem to be accumulating substantially greater volumes of waste than their southern counterparts, they are tasked with managing similar quantities of waste with inferior infrastructure," said the report released Tuesday.

Inuit Nunangat is the collective term for the four Inuit regions in Canada: the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, northern Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

There's no national plan for how to deal with garbage in the Canadian Arctic. Natan Obed, president of the organization that represents Inuit, writes in the report's forward that "it is high time such a framework was built by and for Inuit."

"The gaps in municipal-level capacity to address needed upgrades to entirely inadequate waste management and infrastructure deficits in our 51 communities have direct impacts on the health of our families"

Susanna Fuller, one of the report's authors and vice-president of operations at Oceans North, said the remoteness factor makes waste management challenging but could also be part of the solution.

"There are opportunities for making sure that what we're bringing, whether it's food or cars or appliances up to the Arctic, we are also bringing that waste back," Fuller said.

Oceans North is urging the federal government, the private sector and community groups to find better solutions.

The report said waste management infrastructure in Inuit Nunangat is outdated and poses significant risks to human and natural environments.

There are no incinerators in the Arctic. Most communities collect wastewater by truck and dump it in lagoons or settling ponds.

Paper and cardboard account for one-fifth to one-quarter of all waste in Inuit Nunangat, but there are no programs aimed at recycling or reducing those materials.

Nor are there household recycling programs except for in Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay. There are, however, pilot programs for recycling in many northern communities.

The added threat of climate change will make waste management harder for northern communities, says Oceans North.

"Increased coastal erosion, rising sea levels and melting permafrost due to climate change will leave coastal dumps vulnerable and increase the probability that waste will enter the ecosystem."

The report noted that while Canada has committed to cut its waste by half over the next 20 years, the North is often overlooked in those discussions.

"At a high level, we think it's really important that something be done," Fuller said.

"Canada has committed to reducing single-use plastics and led on the plastics charter that came in the G7, but there's no policy link to deal with it in the Arctic."

Communities across Inuit Nunangat have taken steps to address waste management, but Oceans North said the Arctic still lacks the infrastructure and resources to do it on its own.

The group makes northern-specific recommendations for how federal and local governments could deal with waste in the region, including more money for to make sure waste management systems are equal across the country.

"There are a lot of really good stories. There's a lot of smaller-scale initiatives happening at the community level," Fuller said.

"But waste is never one fix. And, currently, it's not being addressed at all on a higher level."



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