Non-profit clean-up group rallies industry to help ship out Nunavut waste
“It’s definitely something that’s long overdue”
Until this past summer, Arviat, like most communities in Nunavut, had a problem with old, derelict vehicles. Sealift barges that supply the community with goods come in full, and leave empty.
This year, however, was an exception and some are hoping that exception turns into a trend.
As part of a brief pilot project called Tundra Take-back, the non-profit pollution-prevention group Summerhill Impact shipped out six sealift containers full of hazardous waste and recyclable material drawn from derelict cars and trucks. The load included eight scrap vehicles.
“I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to what’s up here. But that’s the first six seacans that have ever gone out of the community in terms of recyclable and waste material,” said Keith Collier, economic development officer for Arviat.
“Everything else that’s been coming into the community over the last 50 years is still here. So in terms of the scale, it might have been small, but it’s definitely something that’s long overdue, and it was very helpful,” he said.
The Toronto-based group filled the containers with hazardous waste and recyclables from 39 vehicles. Those cleaned-out shells now sit at the hamlet’s dump, ready to be shipped out as scrap.
Asked how many derelict vehicles are in the community, Collier gave pause.
“A lot,” he laughed.
“Forty is maybe a fifth of what you can see up there,” he said. “But the vehicles are all kind of jumbled together.”
The hamlet’s senior administrative officer, Steve England, previously told Nunatsiaq News there could be anywhere from 500 to 750 remains of derelict cars, trucks, buses and heavy equipment laid to rest in Arviat.
“Some are probably buried. Who knows how many are up there,” Collier said.
“But every vehicle that’s ever come up here has never left.”
This past August, Summerhill also shipped similar waste, in similar quantities, out of Gjoa Haven. Hazardous waste and recyclables from 41 “end-of-life” vehicles left the Kitikmeot community in six seacans.
In total, the non-profit group shipped 31 tonnes of waste out of both communities combined. That included more than 2,000 tires, more than 1,000 batteries, and “more than 20 barrels of hazardous waste,” said Janet Taylor, account manager for Summerhill Impact.
The effort included on-the-job training for five members of each community in a brief two-week period in August, when they “de-polluted” a total of 80 vehicles.
With the support of Nunavut’s key shippers and suppliers of goods — Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc., and Calm Air and Canadian North airlines – Taylor said the effort proved it’s possible to eliminate Nunavut’s “legacy waste” issue: garbage that piles up and doesn’t go anywhere.
“We did the pilot project in 2014, just to see if it was possible, to see if communities would be interested, and to see how well recyclers could help apply their skills in a Northern context,” said Taylor, who runs the northern division of Summerhill Impact’s pollution-prevention projects.
Taylor admits the pilot project would not have been possible without “massive” contributions from key businesses that supply Nunavut’s hamlets.
In particular, Arctic Co-operatives provided use of the sealift containers, as well as other “in-kind contributions” in both communities, and Nunavut Sealink and Supply (NSSI) provided a 65-per cent discount on shipping.
“There were literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions for last year’s program,” Taylor said.
Summerhill is now hoping the program can keep running on its own in 2015.
“We want to grow, expand and develop new knowledge for the communities to take next year, with a bigger focus on economic efficiency,” she said.
To do that, the non-profit must somehow assess the value of what is in any given dump site and show that it can cover the costs of removing it with revenue from southern recyclers and added financial support from government.
None of this will be possible without demonstrating that there is enough interest and support for programs to haul out waste.
Summerhill is gauging that interest through an online crowdfunding campaign, launched in mid-November. The target: to raise $120,000, which is what Summerhill’s crowdfunding site says it needs to clean up one community.
Taylor clarified that this is how much the non-profit needs to work in one Nunavut community that is about the same size as Arviat or Gjoa Haven – and clean it up to about the same extent as Summerhill did in 2014. Arviat has a population of more than 2,500 and Gjoa Haven, about 1,400.
Summerhill is also counting on ACL, federal and territorial governments, and the corporate sector to contribute support and funding over and above the $120,000 to help the program expand, Taylor said.
Derelict vehicles are the perfect type of waste to demonstrate successful clean-ups, “because they represent a number of different wastes that are found in the dump,” Taylor told Nunatsiaq News.
“A car is a large, bulky metal material that can be recycled. Within it, there are hazardous wastes ranging from mercury switches, ozone-depleting substances, refrigerants, oils, fuels, antifreeze – the whole gamut of things that can get into the local waterway,” she said.
“So we said, if you could manage a vehicle top to bottom with all the pollutants in it, you can probably deal with some of the other stockpiled things commonly found at the dump” – such as lead sources, acid batteries, and tires, she said.
“We recognize that every single community across Nunavut, and pretty much in most northern and remote communities across Canada, does have a need for this type of a program.”
Summerhill’s program showed signs of promise in Arviat this year. But the hamlet, like Nunavut’s 24 other communities, still has a long way to go.
Six sealift containers of hazardous waste and recyclables shipped out in one summer “is a lot, but compared to what’s at the dump, it’s a drop in the bucket,” Collier said.
Hamlets must find better ways to ship old vehicles out, he said, pointing out that Summerhill’s 39 de-polluted wrecks are still at the dump, awaiting removal.
“Seacans are just not a very efficient way to ship out vehicle wrecks,” and funding remains the biggest roadblock, Collier said.
The hamlet remains hopeful that it can find a willing customer to take all of its bulky metal waste out, once and for all.
“We’ve had at least two companies over the past two years, come in and inspect the dump, and try to get a sense of what’s there,” Collier said. “There is a market for recycled materials.
“The question is always – if it’s a business that’s going to do it, can they ship out the material in a way that is cost-efficient enough that they can make a profit at the end of the day?”
Meanwhile, all communities of Nunavut expect to get a more definite response on how to manage their mountains of waste from the Government of Nunavut early next year when the department of community and government services releases a solid waste management plan.