Northwest Territories: Waste Management in Northern and Rural Canada

Updated: Mar 29

The second case study in a three-part series on Waste Management in Northern and Rural Canada by Chanel Best. This series is part of the Kroeger Policy Review's Issue 2 on Waste Management in Canada. To read the series primer click here.



CASE STUDY: Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (Population 19,569); Northwest Territories (Population 41,786) [1]


The Northwest Territories is behind the rest of Canada in terms of the amount of waste that contaminates the local natural environment instead of making it to landfills. In 2019, the provincial government of the Northwest Territories published an updated guide on waste management titled “Waste Resource Management Strategy and Implementation Plan [2].” According to the report, residents in Northwest Territories discard 946kg/year of waste, the second highest in the country behind Alberta and 1.3 times the average Canadian [3]. Also, less materials are recycled in the Northwest Territories compared to the rest of Canada [4], contributing significantly to the amount of “waste” going into landfills [5]. In Yellowknife, the largest city in the territory waste management practices are failing to meet the standards of other cities in Canada. Plastics, glass, metal collected in Yellowknife are being thrown into the landfill, and it has been happening for years [6]. Consumption and disposal habits respond to poor policy in remote regions. For example, Yellowknife changed its waste management policy in response to COVID-19, restricting services which has corresponded with an increase in levels of residential and household waste [7]. On April 6, 2020, the city suspended its green bin program and instructed residents to add food waste to their regular garbage [8]. This led to an increase in illegal dumping, a Facebook group for local cleanup was created in May 2020, inspired by a notable increase of waste in the community [9]. There is a need for additional waste pickup in the city [10], but limited resources combined with stressors from the pandemic mean that without external support these habits will likely continue.


The waste management strategy report details the specific challenges that the region faces due to its remoteness. In the Northwest Territories, there are issues with tracking waste disposal from the industrial sector due to the fact that waste is not weighed outside of Yellowknife and Inuvik [11]. The lack of infrastructure means that this waste is measured in community waste, an inaccuracy that can prevent effective policy from being created to achieve targets. Furthermore, the current transportation network in the region is not adequate for the needs of communities [12]. Transportation is cited repeatedly as a concern because it is costly to maintain and upgrade due to climate. Inequalities are present within the region as well, not all infrastructure is developed equally. Additionally, improper infrastructure for hazardous waste has negative impacts for the natural environment, as animals unfortunately have access to chemicals, spare tires, batteries, etc.


Click on the link to read the Case Study on Northern Ontario and the Case Study on Rural Canada.

  1. Statistics Canada, Census Profile 2016, Accessed December 19, 2020. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dppd/prof/details/page.cfm?B1=All&Code1=995&Code2=61&Data=Count&Geo1=CMACA&Geo2= PR&Lang=E&SearchPR=01&SearchText=Yellowknife&SearchType=Begins&TABID=1

  2. Departments of Environmental and Natural Resources and Municipal and Community Affairs, 2019.

  3. Departments of Environmental and Natural Resources and Municipal and Community Affairs, 2019.

  4. In addition to more waste reaching landfills, more waste is dumped illegally. These problems have a cost burden increasing financial strain for waste management further. (Departments of Environmental and Natural Resources and Municipal and Community Affairs, 2019.)

  5. Sidney Cohen, “Yellowknife recyclables have been dumped into landfill for more than a year,” CBC News, July 11, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/recycling-program not-what-1.5207210

  6. The article explains that labour shortages combined with dip in the market for recyclables meant more items entering the landfill. Currently, beverage containers, corrugated cardboard, and some paper products are the only items being recycled at the plant in Yellowknife. (Sidney Cohen, 2019.)

  7. Simon Whitehouse, “City changing garbage collection as residential waste increases,” NNSL Media, April 3, 2020. https://nnsl.com/yellowknifer/city-changing-garbage-collection-as residential-waste-increases/

  8. Simon Whitehouse, 2020.

  9. Simon Whitehouse, 2020.

  10. Sidney Cohen, 2019.

  11. Departments of Environmental and Natural Resources and Municipal and Community Affairs, 2019.

  12. Departments of Environmental and Natural Resources and Municipal and Community Affairs, 2019.