Waste Management is Being Neglected in Northern and Rural Canada

Updated: Mar 29

The primer to 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.

The Problem

The lack of external support from federal, and provincial governments has left northern and rural regions of Canada behind in waste management policy [1]. Due to smaller populations and distance from major cities, communities in rural and northern Canada face unique challenges that require creative solutions regarding waste disposal. While remaining aware of the difficulties posed by legislation, there continues to be a lack of acknowledgment of the vast inequalities present between large urban centers and these communities in the waste management sector.


  • Rural populations are considered to be any populations under 1000 by the Government of Canada [2], but for the purposes of this review, distance will also be addressed. Rural communities are any region located a considerable distance from an urban area that lacks infrastructure or a steady population base including regions in Northern Ontario and Quebec, Indigenous communities, mining communities, the Northern Territories, and parts of the Prairies and Atlantic Canada such as Labrador. For this reason, remote populations are a more accurate term for this discussion.

  • Different standards apply to rural/remote/northern regions in legislation, these inconsistencies prevent effective development and lack of enforcement, therefore practices in these regions appear sloppier.

  • There are three main challenges facing these regions: the lack of external support, cost, and geographic barriers [3].

  • Lack of External Support: Communities in these regions are often limited to basic waste management infrastructure that often does not accommodate hazardous waste including electronic waste, and biochemicals. This infrastructure cannot be updated without external funds [4].

  • Cost: Limited budgets creates a competition within the infrastructure, and waste management is not always an immediate priority for these communities. Overall there is a higher operating cost per capita for waste management services, and these costs prevent advancement [5]. The costs of building, maintaining, and updating infrastructure remain an ongoing challenge [6].

  • Geographic Barriers: In some cases, the waste management sites are located far away from population centers which has a negative impact on cost [7]. In northern regions having year-round access to waste management sites is another permanent geographic challenge. Distance also makes it risky to transport hazardous waste materials [8].

Case Studies

The situation in northern and rural Canada can be seen in three unique case studies. Click on each to view the individual case study.

  1. CASE STUDY 1: NORTHERN ONTARIO In the Districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora, Manitoulin, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming and the Regional Municipality of Sudbury

  2. CASE STUDY 2: NORTHWEST TERRITORIES In the Northwest Territories

  3. CASE STUDY 3: RURAL CANADA In Bruce Mines, Ontario; Sedgewick; and Nackawic, New Brunswick


  • Developing federal standards for waste policies to ensure communities have equal access and quality of services across Canada.

  • Seeking measures to reduce costs for municipalities.

  • Infrastructure costs can be reduced by expanding and improving existing structures

  • Increasing partnerships between small and remote municipalities. These relationships are already existent, for example in Prince Edward Island, most of the small communities are on the same waste management contract [9]. Policy is regional and not up to each township/ municipality.

  • Development and promotion of a circular economy especially in the north, through new investments in technology. Such as the generating renewable energy from landfill sites, in Thunder Bay the local dump converts methane released from the landfill into electricity [10].

  • Developing policy with specific reduction targets.

  • Developing enforcement measures to make sure standards and targets are being met. Including specific targets in policy.

  • Seeking measures to reduce costs for municipalities.

  • Focus on specific issues such as hazardous waste disposal.

  1. The Solid Waste Management for Northern and Remote Communities Planning and Technical Guidance Document was published in March 2017, it details the shortcomings in northern and rural waste management. In summary Northern regions have the biggest difficulty with infrastructure, transportation due to far distances, short building seasons, and labour shortages place further limits on infrastructure development that already faces a harsh climate. The factors of cost, distance and lack of external support work synonymously to prevent the necessary development needed to match standards to urban populations. (Environment and Climate Change Canada, “Solid Waste Management for Northern and Remote Communities Planning and Technical Guidance Document,” March 2017. 1-108. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2017/eccc/En14-263-2016-eng.pdf)

  2. Statistics Canada, “Population Centre and Rural Area Classification,” 2016. https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/subjects/standard/pcrac/2016/introduction#s3

  3. Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2017.

  4. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, “Northwest Territories Waste Resource Management Strategy and Implementation Plan, 1-36. June 2019. https://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/enr/files/resources/waste_strategy_plan.pdf

  5. Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2017.

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

  7. Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2017.

  8. Hazardous materials include explosives, toxic liquids, oil and tires, radioactive materials, corrosives or other miscellaneous goods. Proper certifications required to transport these materials are required, they should not be handled by residents of communities. (Government of Northwest Territories, “Guideline for Hazardous Waste Management,” 1-46 October 2017. https://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/enr/files/resources/128-hazardous_waste interactive_web_0.pdf)

  9. Prince Edward Island is made up of many small communities that are a part of a joint waste management program managed by the province, standards are fairly equal among urban and rural communities. The northwest territories and northern Ontario have both cited needs to increase regional partnerships to improve waste management standards. (IMWC, Disposal, Accessed December 20, 2020. https://iwmc.pe.ca)

  10. Approximately 20% of Canada’s methane emissions come from landfills, transforming those emissions into useable energy are the kind of creative solutions needed to form a successful circular economy. Currently the Mapleward dump power generation site provides energy to 2,500 homes. (Gary Rinne, “City installing more methane gas wells to feed Mapleward Road power plant,” TB News Watch, September 3, 2019.”https://www.tbnewswatch.com/local-news/city-installing-more-methane-gas-wells-to-feed mapleward-rd-power-plant-2-photos-1663444