Garbage piles up in communities as Nunavut awaits federal funding
Very little waste ever “truly leaves the territory”
Waste landfills in Nunavut’s largest communities are at or near capacity, and piles of garbage continue to mount.
Yet few communities have an immediate plan for what to do with waste material that keeps flowing in by air and sealift, without much chance of breaking down in the Arctic environment or getting recycled.
“The biggest challenge is how to manage this waste stream that seems to have all of this one-directional flow,” says Bu Lam, director of community infrastructure with Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services.
Lam’s division at CGS helps communities plan their landfills and waste sites.
“A whole lot of garbage, after it arrives in the community, never leaves the community,” he told Nunatsiaq News in a recent interview.
“The sealift, for example, brings up a whole bunch of goods, but a lot of that garbage never truly leaves the territory.”
The obvious answer is to start hauling the waste back out to the South from each community “or discard it in an environmentally-friendly way,” Lam said.
But the lack of access to funding and high transportation costs stand in the way of such plans.
Of Nunavut’s 25 far-flung communities, only one — the City of Iqaluit — is tax-based, which allows it to generate revenue for its own capital projects, including garbage dumps.
Others, with populations ranging from a few hundred to 2,700 compared to Iqaluit’s population of nearly 8,000, are left to rely on CGS.
The department’s community infrastructure division, according to the CGS website, is “primarily responsible for the successful implementation of Federal Infrastructure funding programs.”
“Putting together these solid waste projects isn’t cheap, it’s financially onerous,” Lam said.
Roy Green, the deputy minister of the department, confirmed this month that facilities across the territory are in need of upgrades or replacement.
“We recognize that this is going to take a huge investment from both levels of government to replace those facilities,” he told mayors of the Baffin region March 5, at their annual mayors’ forum in Iqaluit.
Solid waste facility projects must follow requirements set out in municipal water licenses, which govern sewage and wastewater treatment.
Green said funding for water treatment facilities and sewage is covered by a gas tax fund from the federal government.
For solid waste projects, he said the territorial government will draw on the federal government’s New Building Canada Plan “to address some of those infrastructure needs.”
The plan’s funds amount to $419 million for Nunavut, from 2014 to 2024, or slightly more than about $40 million a year.
The federal government will decide how to allocate these funds to municipalities for 2014-2015 this spring, said Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
CGS wants communities to separate their waste by type. This will allow communities to adopt haul-back programs for recyclable and re-useable material once funding comes through, Lam said.
It will also allow them to incinerate garbage that can be legally burned, which many communities seem to favour.
The Hamlet of Cambridge Bay has taken the lead in waste-separation, with a full plan set to be launched this spring.
Recycling is the hamlet’s ultimate goal. To get there, the hamlet will open a separate division within its waste site to hold recyclable plastics and metals.
“We’re going to be able to divert plastics, metals and aluminum out of our regular dump, out of the waste stream, so it’s going to extend the life of our landfill,” said Stephen King, senior administrative officer for the hamlet.
The hamlet is Nunavut’s fourth largest community, with a population of almost 1,700.
“It’s a really big task we’ve taken on, and we’re more than happy to do it,” he said. “We really want to be a leader in this type of endeavor. It’s just the right thing to do.”
It’s also necessary, he said. Municipal water licenses, issued by the Nunavut Water Board, describe terms and conditions for compliance on waste-management.
The federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is supposed to enforce the terms of those licenses.
“You could think of it in terms of the water board as being policy-setters, and Aboriginal Affairs as being the police,” Lam said.
Cambridge Bay’s license is up for renewal within a year, King said, and terms have tightened.
“Either we do it (upgrade their waste site), or we might be forced one of these days to do it,” King said. “It’s a monumental task and it’s going to be a big adjustment for community members, but ultimately it’s the right thing to do.”
Cambridge Bay’s main challenge as it readies the launch of its new program in April is to inform and educate residents about it. Until recently, access to the dump has been a “free-for-all,” and collection was made on an as-needed basis, King said.
Under the new program, the hamlet will collect recyclables and garbage in separate bins, at specific times.
The hamlet shared its plan with other communities in the territory through the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, and CGS has supported the plan as a model to follow.
As it awaits federal funding for new projects, CGS has called for hamlets to line their waste sites with fencing to control access. About half have done so, Lam said.
Most communities only have the most basic segregation programs in place: to separate bulky metals and hazardous materials, such as large batteries and oil products.
The communities of Iqaluit, Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay are close behind Cambridge Bay with plans to upgrade, or establish new solid waste sites, according to CGS. Others lie in wait.
Planning studies have been underway for new projects in Arviat, Clyde River and Pangnirtung and Sanikiluaq.
CGS determines “the most appropriate and feasible option” for waste-disposal technologies, Lam said, given information on garbage volumes generated, waste ratios by type, and projections on waste generation over the next “20 or more years.”
Arviat and Pangnirtung have favoured incineration, but that will have to wait until those communities have more basic waste-segregation plans place.
The wait for a response from CGS has caused apprehension in Arviat.
“We’ve had funding for more than five year now, to build a new dump site,” said Arviat’s mayor, Bob Leonard.
“But for a whole bunch of reasons it’s difficult to find a dump site here. Apart from, nobody wants one anywhere – it’s just because we’re so flat, and our water table is so high.”
CGS backed away from proposals to adopt incineration, without explanation, said Leonard, who has been the hamlet’s mayor for the past five years.
Still, the hamlet has found some signs of promise for a big part of its waste: scrap metal.
“All of a sudden metal is a hot commodity and we, in the past year, have had at least three companies in here really looking to take it out and sell it as scrap,” the mayor said.
“I just think we don’t want anymore waste accumulating, so let’s get moving,” Leonard said.
“Our water license expires in one year. At the end of next year, we’ll need to have a new plan in place to satisfy the federal government.”