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Understanding Waste Management: Creating a First Nation Plan That Works

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Waste management for First Nations
Understanding Waste Management

The evolution of waste management is one that spans approximately six decades, and unfortunately, First Nation communities have fallen behind.

From the first concept of a “transfer station” (to help larger cities manage their waste,) to initial recycling programs and standards for landfill monitoring, groundwater protection, and post-closure care, First Nations have often been a last-minute addition to the planning process.

Despite the fact that Indigenous communities are considered stewards of the land and environment, they are so little thought of in the planning process that many have taken it upon themselves to demand inclusion in county or municipal planning, or they’ve proceeded in creating their own waste management plan themselves.

How did they create a plan that works for their own First Nation communities? Here are some integral steps:

Understand and Inform the Community on What a Waste Management Plan Can Achieve

A First Nation community Waste Management Plan will:

1. Maximize the life of the landfill site

2. Reduce costs to the community for waste management

3. Protect the environment

Once you understand how this is achieved, relaying that to community members is necessary to achieve planning success. Related: Community Energy Planning for First Nations: The Fundamentals

Understand the Definition of Solid Waste Management

Solid waste management is defined as the collecting, treating, and disposing of solid material that is discarded because it has served its purpose or is no longer useful.

How this is historically managed for each First Nation community has been based on a variety of factors.

Geographic location, community population, landfill accessibility, and community priorities in terms of environmental impacts, budgeting, and operations have been fundamental components of that prior management. Looking forward, each of these items and more will need to be re-evaluated.

Conducting a waste audit to determine what is being thrown away in the community will go a long way toward discerning how best to manage waste in the future. Knowing what the community is throwing away and what affect that is having on the existing landfill site can help in terms of recycling and waste handling program development, as well as proactive location/expansion, staffing, and budgeting plans.

Know the First Nation Community’s Current Situation

Developing First Nations waste management plans
Taking a Haul to The Dump

Knowing where and how the existing landfill site for a First Nation community operates is essential in planning for the future.

Testing and evaluating operations and waste management now will help the community develop long-term solutions for future priorities, community growth, maximizing site life, and environmental care and monitoring.

Knowing what the community has now will help determine variances and improvements.

This phase includes but is not limited to:

· Initial Assessment of Site, Monitoring Network and Operations

· On-site Investigations

a) Well Installations

b) Test Pit Program

c) Topographic Survey

a) Groundwater

b) Landfill gas

c) Surface Water

· A Final Landfill Assessment Report

From here, the community will then understand the useful life of the existing landfill site, the costs to operate it “as is,” the environmental concerns and impacts, and the projections for status quo versus future planning.

Understand the Goals and Objectives of Creating a Waste Management Plan

If the First Nation doesn’t know its position on waste and waste related activities, how will it prioritize what’s important for the future? Through the evaluation of existing regional efforts as well as effective community engagement, the overall position of an Indigenous community in how to properly manage its waste can be gleaned. Complete a Community Personality Test, which includes input from Band Members on everything from their feelings about the existing waste situation to their recommendations.

What is their vision of waste in the community? Are there opportunities to teach about waste? What level of the community does membership feel should be taking action? What skills does the community have to complete a Waste Management Plan? Does there need to be capacity building done before this can be successfully achieved? Are there opportunities for waste diversion regionally? What type of capital and operating dollars will be necessary to achieve the community’s waste management goals? Related: 3 Ways To Effectively Communicate Technical Information to First Nations

Know What a Waste Management Plan Entails

first nations scrap metal dumping
Understanding Waste Management Plans

For a First Nation to undertake the development of a Waste Management Plan they must first understand that there is a lengthy time commitment required.

Effective site monitoring alone can take up to two years, sometimes more. There are many milestone activities in the planning process that will require time and cost money.

Long term financial and human resource planning is vital for a successful strategy. In the meantime, the community can complete evaluations and make recommendations for the future in terms of policies, processes, and practices.

They can look to establish or expand solid waste diversion programming and investigate all reasonable options for landfilling the residual. Looking for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle are necessary. The possibilities of enhancements to or the establishment of waste collection and transfer can be reviewed. New or alternative processes, such as contracted services or transporting offsite, can be evaluated.

And, options for maintaining, expanding, or closing the existing landfill need to be assessed. For each component of evaluation or study, environmental, social, economic, and technical/legal factors will need to be accounted for.

Creating a Skeleton Plan

Like any plan, there are elements that are necessary for its completion. The basic skeleton First Nation Waste Management Plan should include:

· Vision Statement

· Guiding Principles

· Baseline Data

· Collection Plan

· Residential Collection

· Commercial Collection

· Waste Minimization

· Disposal

· Monitoring Plan

· Operations Plan

· Financial Plan

Any additional pieces which are required or added as a result of community engagement and individual First Nation factors are simply a part of good and effective planning practices.

Understand Implementation at the Community Level

Does the First Nation community have the skills and abilities required to implement a Waste Management Plan? Have the financial resources been secured and committed for proper implementation and execution? Has the community done everything to ensure that all the stakeholders in the project are involved over the long term? These questions will need to be answered before implementation can be effectively undertaken. Once the data is sourced for each of these issues and queries, the Waste Management Plan can then be successfully applied at the community level.

Contact us today about how we can help with your communities waste management plans and needs. Call us at: (705) 657-1126 or by email at:

To book a zoom meeting directly with our CEO to discuss how we can help with your communities waste management planning needs, click here

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