Tackling waste pollution in the Arctic with community empowerment 10 May 2021Arctic PeoplesPlastics in the ArcticPollutantsThe Russian FederationSaami CouncilArctic Contaminants Action ProgramPathways 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.