From landfills to local environment — how to curb Nunavut’s toxic waste
“Ultimately, this is affecting the health of wildlife and people"
The landfill in the western Nunavut community Gjoa Haven sits above a slope that runs down toward the water from its southern and eastern edges.
That means that in the warmer months, a stream flows from the dump site to the sea, bringing with it waste — some of it toxic.
And that’s been a concern to local teacher Adam Malcolm, who is looking to the territorial government to help cut down on the amount of toxic waste entering Nunavut’s landfills in the first place.
Malcolm, a science teacher at the local Qiqirtaq school, has recently launched an online petition asking Nunavut’s environment minister, Johnny Mike, to upgrade the territory’s landfills and waste management policies.
Malcolm said the chemicals found in plastics, batteries, and electronics to continue to fill up Nunavut’s landfills, leaching into local soil and water and eventually entering the food chain.
“Ultimately, [this is] affecting the health of wildlife and people, particularly the young,” Malcom said. “As an educator, I feel a responsibility to raise awareness among Nunavummiut about what the things we toss out are doing to the environment and to our health.”
Gjoa Haven is not alone in its concerns about waste management, although many of Nunavut’s hamlets are too busy trying to figure where to put any and all waste, as the territory’s landfills fill to capacity.
Without recycling or other waste diversion programs, most of Nunavut’s waste stays in the community.
A 2011 study carried out by the Yellowknife-based Arktis Solutions looked at the state of landfills across the territory with the goal of advising the Government of Nunavut on how to manage its landfills in a more sustainable way.
But the study determined that the GN would have to spend more than $9 million per community to bring its landfills up to scratch — a pricey endeavour that the GN decided wasn’t worth the investment.
Malcolm believes recycling programs could still play a major role in waste diversion efforts in Nunavut.
He even spearheaded his own program in Gjoa Haven last summer, which diverted two sea cans full of items like batteries, electronics, fluorescent light bulbs and plastic out of the local dump to southern depots, with the support of the World Wildlife Foundation, Arctic Co-ops Ltd. and NSSI.
Malcolm suggests one scenario he said could work in Nunavut communities, for much less than the millions of dollars the GN estimates such a program would cost.
The program would require the department of Community and Government Services to fund one recycling coordinator in each community.
That person would be responsible for working in the schools to help set up recycling containers in each classroom — one for aluminum cans and another for plastics.
Without a recyclables processing plant in Nunavut, paper and cardboard products should be excluded from the proposed program, Malcolm said — at least at first.
To expand the program to other parts of the community, the coordinator would encourage the local hamlet, health centre and government buildings to begin recycling in their offices, to be collected as part of a weekly pick-up.
The recycling coordinator would also establish a battery and electronic-waste drop-off box at the local store or in another central location.
In the summer months, the coordinator would work with shipping companies to negotiate space to send recyclables south.
But Malcolm stressed that participation would be voluntary at first.
“My sense is that forcing participation from the get-go will only lead to a mix of resentment and poorly sorted, inevitably landfill-bound bags,” he said.
“Once voluntary recycling reaches a critical mass of participants, mandatory participation might then be considered.”
Malcolm said he’s written to the GN’s environment department several times over the past three years about his concerns, although he’s yet to receive a response.
Click here to visit his online petition.