No Time to Lose: We Need to Start Prioritizing Solid Waste Management in First Nations Communities

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This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Anderson Assuah, Assistant Professor, Indigenous and Northern Studies, University College of the North

Last year, Harry Towtongie, the mayor of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, lamented how toxic substances dumped from the community dump into the nearby ocean harmed local food sources. He said the landfill was full and overflowing and needed to be decommissioned before a new one was built, but financial support was not readily available.

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Many First Nations, Northern, and remote communities face similar challenges as they struggle to properly manage municipal solid waste (MSW). They also often don’t have access to waste diversion programs, such as recycling. Inadequate funding and infrastructure, lack of capacity, adverse weather conditions, small population size and socio-economic factors add to their woes, making waste management a daunting task. Burning and burying waste have therefore become common management practices in these remote communities.

Despite the enormous challenges communities have faced, recent research has revealed that some First Nations in Western Canada now have access to DSM infrastructure, offering them a potential way out of the waste management crisis. .

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As a researcher interested in solid waste management in Indigenous and northern communities, I believe these issues need to be prioritized in policy discourse, research and development to encourage sustained action that protects First Nations. against environmental damage and also protects the environment.

Challenges persist despite community action

Our research of 12 First Nations communities in Western Canada revealed that the majority of them have solid waste management infrastructure in their communities, including transfer stations and recycling depots, which had been missing for several years.

These facilities and the additional infrastructure have enabled many communities to pursue waste diversion programs. The Heiltsuk Nation, for example, has recycling, composting, and reuse programs, and all 12 communities offer garbage collection services to community members.

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Although data on community efforts is lacking, the communities we have worked with have attributed the success of their MDS management programs to community participation, free and regular residential curbside collections, and their ability to transport their waste collected to regional facilities.

Our research shows that communities have improved their MSD management systems that previously existed, but two communities still operated dumps or open pits, and only one community, Peguis First Nation, had a disposal site. artificial burial.

However, funding challenges remain for all communities and without regular and dedicated funding, programs cannot be sustained.

Extended Producer Responsibility Programs

Since the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs in Canada, which require producers to manage the end of life of products, provincial stewardship agencies collect and process products when their life cycle ends.

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Five of the 12 communities we worked with had signed up for stewardship programs for items such as beverage containers, used oil and electronics. Through these programs, they have received monetary compensation from stewardship organizations such as Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba, Recycle BC and Alberta Recycling. However, this is not representative of many other First Nations communities, as there are approximately 379 First Nations in Western Canada.

A major challenge mentioned by participants was their inability to find stewardship organizations to work with. Reasons included organizations’ reluctance to work with remote and rural communities, lack of community capacity to comply with EPR program requirements – such as proper handling and storage of materials – and lack of dedicated staff to manage onerous administrative formalities.

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We found that provincial stewardship organizations do not discriminate against First Nations on paper and that some stewardship programs make an effort to work with First Nations. However, their mandates do not specify that they must work with First Nations, particularly those in remote and rural areas.

This is despite the fact that First Nations also pay environmental handling fees or container recycling fees on designated materials, which support stewardship programs.

A clear mandate for stewardship organizations to work directly with First Nations and other rural communities could be an important solution to bringing waste diversion to these communities.

The First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative

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In 2016, the federal government committed $409 million over five years to directly address solid waste management in First Nations communities across the country.

The First Nations Waste Management Initiative (FNWMI) provided funding to eligible First Nations, organizations and groups to pursue solid waste management initiatives and develop programs for First Nations. Some of these activities and programs include community capacity building and training as well as waste awareness and education programs.

A recent evaluation of this initiative concluded that it was effective in meeting the waste management needs of First Nations while highlighting five areas for improvement.

He also identified two outstanding issues: gaps exist in the provision of adequate funding to support waste management systems, and access to funding may somewhat favor First Nations who are close to urban centers and are part of tribal councils.

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The evaluation highlighted the need to provide regular and sustained funding for the operation and maintenance of existing systems.

Look forward

First Nations have faced many challenges over the years when it comes to MSW management and there is no quick fix. There is no single solution.

Rather, sustainable and community-specific solutions must be developed. This requires federal and provincial governments, stewardship organizations and communities to commit to working together through policies and programs that work for First Nations.

The federal government must commit to funding First Nations each year, provinces must design waste diversion policies focused on First Nations, particularly those in remote areas, and stewardship agencies must develop diversion models sustainable waste with communities.

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This approach will help First Nations take control of decision-making and establish long-term MSW management plans and programs to improve current systems.


Anderson Assuah does not work for, consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: – start-pr



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