Recycling to reduce contaminants entering Lake Superior

Recycling to reduce contaminants entering Lake Superior

By Damien Lee, Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami

Toxic Soup
Fort William First Nation (FWFN) is an aboriginal community on the northwest shore of Lake Superior, adjacent to the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Though our community has a long history of interacting with the lake, we have created over time a pollution problem that may be contributing to the Lake’s toxic burden.

Our community of approximately 1,700 people has a large un-engineered and unmonitored dumpsite. The Squaw Bay Road dump has existed for over three decades. The lack of engineering means there is no leachate liner. The lack of monitoring means people from the reserve and from Thunder Bay are able to dump waste, including household hazardous waste, household garbage, medical waste, animal carcasses, etc.When wastes such as these are allowed to mingle in a dump with rainwater and stormwater runoff, a toxic soupy liquid is formed called leachate. If there is no leachate liner, this toxic liquid may migrate into the ground water and ultimately adjacent surface waters. In the case of the Squaw Bay Road dump, these contaminated ground waters and surface waters are dangerously close to the shore of Lake Superior.

More disconcerting is that the FWFN Band pays for weekly curbside garbage service, which collects members’ household waste and takes it to the City of Thunder Bay’s engineered landfill. There is no cost to members. In addition, FWFN has a bylaw that states “non-community members will be charged for dumping waste on FWFN land.” However, it does not restrict FWFN members from dumping. With a few changes our community’s leachate problem could be avoided in part by better conventional solid waste management and by amending the existing bylaw to restrict all dumping on FWFN land.

Taking Action
In 2006, community members concerned about environmental issues formed a not-for-profit organization called Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami. Our first major project was to offer the community more conventional solid waste management opportunities as a means to reduce the perceived need to use the Squaw Bay Road dump. FortWilliamFirst Nation’s first curbside recycling pilot project was launched. Youth began by educating community members about household hazardous waste issues.

Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami brought a mobile recycling depot to the community’s annual powwow. This was the first time recycling was available at our powwow, and over 200 people stopped to talk to staff and volunteers about the idea. This initiative alone resulted in over 75 kg of recyclable materials being diverted from the dump.

Moving forward
This summer the recycling pilot project offers curbside recycling to 80 of our 330 FWFN households. Recognizing that change moves slowly, we see curbside recycling and household hazardous waste education as the first steps toward eliminating leachate generation at the Squaw Bay Road dump site.We believe that by engaging our community members in this project they will take more pride in keeping our land clean and become less tolerant towards people dumping waste on Band land. As the program grows we foresee the eventual closure and remediation of the Squaw Bay Road dump.

The lessons learned from implementing this two year curbside recycling pilot project will direct Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami’s future plans to expand curbside recycling into other parts of Fort William First Nation. Full expansion will enable all community members to contribute to halting the generation of leachate from within our community.

For more information, contact Damien Lee at



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