The quantity of waste being generated in Nunavik is increasing and will continue to do so as population and consumption rates grow. This is why the Minister of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (Now the Minister of Environment, Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks) gave a mandate to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) to investigate and hold public hearings on the current status and management of final waste. Final waste is simply defined as residual materials that are not reprocessed or recycled and must be eliminated. Except for local recycling initiatives in Nunavik communities, nearly all waste in Northern landfills is considered final waste.
Improving waste management in the region is a key issue for the Kativik Environmental Advisory Committee (KEAC) which is why the committee agreed to co-chair the Nunavik portion of the hearings with the BAPE, held on June 9 and 10, 2021, in Kuujjuaq. Participants from other communities, regional organizations and Quebec ministries participated remotely. During these discussions the participants raised several key concerns: the impacts of open-air burning on local populations and the environment, inadequate funding for waste management, abandoned sites located outside municipal boundaries, regulations and programs adapted to northern realities, landfill capacity and management, and lack of access to information and support in Inuktitut/English.
Feedback from the Nunavik and other consultations, went into the development of the BAPE’s final report which was published in January 2022. The report highlights 11 strategic approaches that are intended to guide government decision-making where waste management is concerned and raise awareness of the current situation in Nunavik. Specifically, guideline #10 focuses on remote areas and states that residual materials management measures must be implemented equally throughout Quebec. However, the government must also consider the social and territorial particularities existing in the remote regions and as such, provide the human and financial resources necessary to identify solutions to optimize the management of residual materials in these territories, in accordance with the concept of a circular economy.
Guideline #10 lends itself to Chapter 11 of the BAPE’s report which provides detailed information and recommendations regarding the current status and management of final waste in Quebec territories covered by treaties such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Below are some of the principal findings from Chapter 11 which reflect the common opinion of the BAPE’s Commission and each of the Nations or communities with respect to improving waste management systems in these territories:
• Waste management in the treaty territories, where the Inuit, Naskapi and Cree live, presents many challenges, mainly because of their isolation from urban centers and the lack of infrastructure adapted for waste management in their specific regions. The infrastructure in place, for the most part, is limited to the disposal of waste, making it difficult to apply the 3Rs-E hierarchy (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recovery & Disposal). In addition, several communities are faced with infrastructure that will reach their full capacity in the near future.
• The remoteness of communities often requires the transportation of certain waste to the southern regions of Quebec, which considerably increases the costs that the communities have difficulty assuming. Without additional
and adequate financial support, large quantities of waste will continue to accumulate in many villages while waiting for viable solutions to this problem. Support from the Quebec government should allow for the implementation of measures adapted to regional realities and aimed at improving waste management and reducing final waste.
• Under provincial regulation, open burning is required at landfill sites in Nunavik. As the data on the effects of open-air burning is lacking, it is essential that the Quebec government document the exposure of communities to contaminants emitted by such burning and that they conduct characterization studies of the areas around landfill sites to assess contamination levels.
• Open-air burning is incompatible with sustainable development. Therefore, the Quebec government must make every effort to identify, in a consensual manner, with communities and regional organizations, alternatives that would improve waste management practices and reduce the volume of final waste in northern landfills.
If you are interested in having a look at the report for yourself or for more information about waste management in Nunavik, you can find visit the KEAC website: www.keac-ccek.org.