New film on waste management in Greenland

News Published 13 Oct 2011 Last modified 23 Nov 2020
2 min read
Dealing with large quantities of unwanted (and sometimes toxic) waste is often difficult – but it becomes even more complicated when people live in isolated communities, in extreme environments hundreds of kilometres from the nearest treatment plant. This is the subject of a new film considering waste management in Greenland, entitled ‘Mission Greenland – for a cleaner future’.

The short film was produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA). It focuses on the management of household waste - including hazardous materials - demonstrating how even small efforts by local people can make a big difference in waste management and protecting the environment.

Only 25 % of household waste in Greenland is delivered to recycling stations, so the EEA hopes its new film will inspire residents, in particular youth and children in Greenland and across the Arctic region to change their behaviour. The film will also be supplemented with some educational material for schoolchildren.

The 12 minute film was introduced by EEA Executive Director Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, and Hon. Anthon Frederiksen, Minister of Domestic Affairs, Nature and Environment in Greenland. 

Waste management challenges

Sound waste management in remote areas like the Arctic is always going to be costly. Large-scale modern waste management systems cannot just be copied wholesale from elsewhere in Europe or North America. Greenland, with its harsh natural environment and dispersed population requires unique solutions tailored to the country’s context.

Because the huge distances and costs involved, much of the waste in Greenland has been (and in many cases continues to be) tipped into landfills just outside city or settlement limits. And without waste separation, household waste is often mixed with more hazardous waste types like batteries, leftover paint, nail polish or other chemicals.

These hazardous materials can affect the health of the local population when they enter the air through incineration or seep out of landfills which often lack protective layers to avoid leakage. Chemicals can seep down towards the coastal waters where Arctic people catch the fish, shrimp and sea mammals which make up a large part of their diet.

However, there are also some positive stories. For example, 99 % of all plastic and glass bottles used on the west coast of Greenland are returned to recycling plants, making country an inspiring example to the rest of the world.

The film considers this complex situation, proposing solutions which allow Greenlanders to manage waste without damaging their natural environment. Greenland is famous for its awe-inspiring natural landscapes, but this environment is extremely fragile, making the case for better waste management even more urgent.

The film is available in English, Danish and Greenlandic language versions.

Watch the English version:

Mission greeland