“Composting is the key” to solving Iqaluit’s garbage woes

Environmentalist launches composting project in Nunavut’s capital



Jim Little’s one-man mission to bring city-wide composting to Iqaluit is beginning to blossom.

After years of composting his own kitchen scraps, the 56-year-old entrepeneur and environmentalist has launched a pilot project with the help of several local organizations and volunteers, to see how a household composting program would work in Iqaluit.

Little, a gas tank contractor and vocal watchdog on waste issues in Iqaluit, floated the idea of bringing composting to Iqaluit a few years ago, after helping fight the municipality’s now-defunct practice of burning garbage.

Little said at the time, that municipal council rejected the prospect of composting, arguing that it only works down South. But Little eventually gained support from the current group of councillors and administration, after other sponsors put their financial weight behind the project.

“When you have enough people say you’re wrong and you know you’re right, you have to prove it,” he said.

For the pilot project, students from each of Iqaluit’s five schools took home specialized plastic composting boxes, bought at Little’s own expense.

For the next 10 weeks, around 100 families will start putting their kitchen scraps, like wilted lettuce and spoiled meat, into a box in front of their house, marked with a flag bearing the Iqaluit Recycling Society’s logo of three fish chasing each other in a triangular.

Every week, a municipal garbage collector will pick up the pile of kitchen scraps, measure how much it weighs, and compare it with the weight of the house’s weekly collection of garbage and recyclables.

The two students whose families put out the highest percentage of compostable material, compared with their other garbage, will win a trip to summer camp in Ontario, worth up to $1,000, from Qikiqtani Inuit Association, as well as a two-way plane ticket to the camp from Canadian North.

Little said he designed the pilot project to include children because it will teach them how to avoid polluting.

“Our children — whether we like it or not — are being forced to pollute,” he said. “Every apple core — as miniscule as that seems — contributes to global warming.”

Little explains that by throwing organic material into the landfill, instead of a compost, the garbage creates gases such as methane which contribute to global warming.

By cutting down on the amount of garbage in the landfill, Little suggests Iqaluit will help slow down global warming, a phenomenon blamed for negative environmental changes in Nunavut, such as reducing the number of polar bears in the Kivalliq region.

Tina Kakee, regional youth coordinator for the Qikiqtani Inuit Assocation, said the potential environmental benefit of composting is the main reason that her organization donated money for the project’s prizes.

However, Kakee added the association is also providing the financial backing because the composting project fits with a long-time Inuit tradition of not creating waste. She pointed to how caribou hunters will use the entire animal, instead of throwing any parts away.

“It’s very southern, if you listen to it for the first time,” Kakee said of composting. “[But] I think it’s something we can adopt pretty easily.”

Mark Hall, Iqaluit’s director of public works, said the project may have a financial return as well. Residents and businesses are currently creating so much garbage that the city may have to develop a new landfill in the coming years.

According to the project proposal, if the city-wide composting program takes flight, Iqaluit could end up putting 35 per cent less garbage in the landfill — and saving up to $440,00 per year.

“If there’s an innovative way or unique to solution to Iqaluit’s solid waste dilemma, I hope that that this will be one of them,” Hall said of the composting project.

Little said skeptics have questioned the science of the project since the beginning. He said even Premier Paul Okalik snubbed the idea, saying that Nunavut’s harsh, cold climate wasn’t meant for composting.

But Little said organic material, like vegetable pealings and chicken bones, generates most of the heat needed for the garbage to break down, and change into soil supplement.

To speed up the process, Little plans to set up a system of heating pipes filled with hot water near the landfill, to run through and thaw out the piles of compost gathered from the pilot project. He also plans to boost the quality of the compost by mixing in leftover pig manure from the late Bill MacKenzie’s farm in Apex.

Little’s idea may even offer a double-whammy to the city, reducing two huge sources of waste in one go.

The Iqaluit Recycling Society has identified cardboard as one of Iqaluit’s bulkiest sources of recyclable garbage. Some bundles of cardboard are bound in a way that airlines can use them as ballast, an extra weight required when the plane doesn’t have enough cargo or passengers. A lot of the cardboard heads straight to the landfill.

Under Little’s composting plan, cardboard will be shredded and mixed in with the kitchen scraps. Little says this method – which creates a necessary balance of nitrogen and carbon – has worked since he began composting his own kitchen scraps in the mid-1980s.

Last fall, Little’s faith in composting in Iqaluit even inspired him to start collecting organic garbage from businesses around Iqaluit, such as Northmart, and now stores the material in a trailer in front of his house.

“Composting is the key,” Little said. “It’s the best option for true recycling in the Arctic. It brings the most benefits, it’s the most cost-effective.”

Little said he plans to submit a business proposal after the pilot project finishes in June, offering to run a composting program in Iqaluit. Although he would stand to gain financially from the program, Little said his efforts are meant to “contribute in a positive way to the community,” not just to make money.

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