How the Saami Council engaged with communities to remove waste and reclaim land

Many people simply put their waste in a trash bin and give it no more thought. But getting rid of waste can be an issue for Indigenous Peoples and small communities in the Arctic that are typically hours away from technical assistance and major waste disposal facilities. While their traditional lifestyle produced small amounts of biodegradable waste, the change to a more modern lifestyle has brought waste that often can’t be recycled or reused locally.

Effective waste management can reduce pollution, limit contamination to food and water sources, help prolong the life of landfills and reduce cleanup costs. However, there is no “one size fits all” approach to waste management, making it highly beneficial for community members to have a stake in management and cleanup activities.

The Saami Council took the lead on empowering local Russian communities to help clean up waste sites through the Kola Waste Project, which started in 2018 with support from the Arctic Council’s Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) Working Group and its Indigenous Peoples Contaminants Action Program (IPCAP) and financial contributions from Sweden and Norway. In summer 2018, the Public Organization for Promotion of Legal Education and Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of the Sámi of the Murmansk Region (OOSMO), a member organization of the Saami Council identified forty-three unauthorized dumpsites in the Murmansk region of Russia that needed non-hazardous waste cleanup.

The project goal was to improve the ecological situation in the Murmansk region – an important area for the Sámi People. The Sámi community in the Russian Federation identified a need to develop and implement a project to clean-up waste in the Murmansk region in the areas where the Sámi people live and practice their traditional lifestyle.

An important element of the clean-up project was that it used a community-based approach. Including local Sámi People was crucial for the project to be successful. Only with their involvement the project team was able to identify priority sites for the clean-up.

Engaging communities and educating youth

In the remote settlement of Krasnoshchelye, located 150 kilometers from the center of the Lovozero district, an unauthorized dumpsite consisting of household, construction and other types of waste, was chosen as the priority clean-up site. Such clean-up activities can be a challenge for the settlement, as there is no road from Lovozero to Krasnoshchelye. Therefore, transport of waste and its subsequent processing is only economically possible via a temporary winter road when the lakes, rivers and swamps are frozen.

With the involvement of teachers and students from Krasnoshchelye school, a volunteer campaign was carried out in September 2019 to collect small-size waste in the vicinity of the village. Involving youth was an important initiative of the project to help the younger generation learn to respect the environment. Local residents, including teachers and high school students took part in health and safety training for waste handling and then participated in the clean-up activities.

For more extensive and laborious clean-up work, representatives of the local community were contracted. One such initiative was a rubbish dump that was formed on the banks of the Panoi River in old concrete silage pits used during the Soviet times to prepare and store special feed for cattle. Historically in the spring season with frequent meltwater and floods, waste would wash into the nearby Ponoi River, polluting it downstream. The Ponoi River is the largest salmon river in the Murmansk region and an important source for local Indigenous Peoples, making its cleanliness a priority. The waste from the old concrete silo pits was cleaned down to a depth of 1.6 meters, and the remaining waste was covered with soil material and compressed.

In addition to local volunteer and contract clean-ups, OOSMO conducted awareness-raising seminars on waste management for local residents. Educating local communities on waste management and engaging them in clean-up efforts gave the project the momentum and efficiency it needed to be successful.

Credit: Ivan Matrekhin

Dump site in Revda before cleanup.

Credit: Ivan Matrekhin

After cleanup.

Significant cleanup accomplishments

Through the Saami Council’s clean-up project in the Murmansk region, a total of 96 tons of waste and eight tons of scrap metal were removed and disposed. Specific accomplishments include:

  • 30 tons of waste, including plastic waste, were collected from one dumpsite near Revda and three dumpsites in Krasnoshchelye in 2019.
  • 15 tons of waste were backhauled from Krasnoshchelye to an authorized landfill by winter roads during the winter season of 2019-2020;
  • Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, 66 tons of waste were collected from waste dumpsites in Lovozero, Revda and Krasnoshchelye in 2020.

Future work

While a significant amount of waste clean-up has been accomplished, there is more to be done in the Murmansk region. Alongside additional clean-ups of dumpsites with non-hazardous waste, new sites with hazardous waste will be addressed. For example, there’s a reservoir of approximately 600 cubic meters filled with heavy fuel oil located in the settlement of Yonsky. The reservoir floods during heavy rainfall, threatening to contaminate a nearby drinking water source. Plans are currently in the works to dispose of the contaminated fuel oil from the reservoir using a company with a license for work with hazardous waste.

In Kharlovka, located in the Lovozero District, a large number of barrels with petroleum products are stored on the shores of the Barents Sea. The barrels are old and rusty, and there is a high probability that there could be a leakage of oil that would end up in the sea. Plans have been made to remove and recycle these barrels, preventing a serious marine environmental hazard.

By bringing together experts and strengthening public participation and community outreach, the Saami Council and ACAP are making concrete steps to create a cleaner environment in the Murmansk region of Russia. The Kola Waste project shows that significant environmental and social results can be achieved with relatively small funds. However, an important prerequisite is close cooperation with the environmental authorities at all levels for coordination of project activities and for safeguarding its congruence with national regulations and federal projects.

Clean-up activities at old waste dumpsites form a good basis for engaging local communities in environmental issues, and for awareness raising and knowledge sharing between communities on different aspects of waste management. The success of this project serves as an example of what can be replicated in other small communities around the Arctic. “The Kola Waste project has provided great momentum for the clean-up activities in communities at the Kola Peninsula and we hope to continue this work in the future,” said project lead Ivan Matrekhin, Vice President of the Saami Council, representing the Saami Association of the Murmansk Region.