Analysis & Opinions - New Security Beat

Solving Municipal Solid Waste Management Challenges in Arctic Cities

| June 26, 2023

The Arctic was once untouched and pristine. However, over the years, the polar environment has experienced ecological damage caused by extensive resource exploration, military activities, and contamination from sources originating outside of the region. The extent and implications of the human-induced pollution legacy are still awaiting comprehensive estimation, measures, and solutions.

Based on research published in 2013, the coastal Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation alone contained up to 4 million tons of industrial and construction waste and up to 12 million iron barrels. And apart from the challenges associated with the historical legacies of exploration, Arctic plastic pollution is another escalating problem that impacts the region’s ecosystem and residents who are already dealing with the pressures of a rapidly changing climate. Underscoring the urgency of the issue at a regional level, Norway emphasized joint collaborative initiatives to tackle marine and plastic pollution in its 2023-2025 Arctic Council Chairship Program.

Unlike industrial and other forms of pollution, the long-standing, pervasive problem of municipal solid waste in Arctic cities receives comparatively little attention. Scientific estimates show that residents across the Arctic produce more waste annually (0.62 tons per capita versus 0.3 tons per capita globally), while also having lower rates of waste collection and recycling than the rest of the world.

Landfills remain a major solid waste processing method in many parts of the region. However, the projected temperature rise in the Arctic could lead to the decomposition of large quantities of solid waste maintained at low temperatures. It will likely result in further surface, groundwater, soil, and air contamination—as well as additional risks to the ecosystem and well-being of northern residents.

As Arctic cities grapple with waste issues, it is essential that they develop comprehensive strategies for reducing waste disposal into landfills that will help municipalities become cleaner, more sustainable, and more resilient in a rapidly warming Arctic.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Filimonova, Nadezhda.“Solving Municipal Solid Waste Management Challenges in Arctic Cities.” New Security Beat, June 26, 2023.