Advancing circular economic and waste reduction programs in 49 First Nations

Mitigating climate change impacts, and protecting and preserving waterways and lands are central to First Nations values across Canada. Yet many First Nations lack the infrastructure to practice and implement those values. To enhance quality of life for residents in Northern Ontario, with the assistance of Indigenous Services Canada, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) partnered to advance circular economic and waste reduction programs in 49 First Nations.

In doing so, the organizations aimed to realize environmental, economic, and social gains of improved waste management for NAN First Nations that encompass and respect principles that align with NAN values:

By applying circular economy principles – long-term resilience, business and economic opportunity, and environmental and societal benefits – NAN First Nations will experience immediate and ongoing action to improve sustainability and the surrounding environment:


The program intends to be developed within 18 months with full implementation phased in over multiple years. The project will be designed to address several issue areas that may require parallel implementation strategies. Implementation will be managed in three distinct phases to allow for proof of concept and opportunity for partners and community consultation and engagement.

The primary role of the needs assessment is to examine the status of materials management practices within each of 49 First Nation communities that represent NAN. This includes inventory of current waste management infrastructure, programs and/or services that support them, and gaps therein. This information will be used to develop the broader strategy to support the identified economic, environmental, and social objectives


With information provided by the needs assessment a strategy will be developed that considers identified critical action areas:

  1. Infrastructure and Operations
  2. Training
  3. Diversion (Recycling and Composting) Programs
  4. Education (community, schools, government and businesses)
  5. Internal and External: Tracking and Reporting

The strategy will set out implementation plans for each of the critical action areas, with details regarding budgets, human resources, roles and responsibilities, timelines, and reporting. The strategy will also provide project plans for each of the key areas to guide implementation and reporting structures. Each area will identify partners and community engagement strategies.

It will indicate what resources and expertise are available within NAN communities, and what assistance may be needed from other sources. In that regard, the strategy could identify and look to leverage successes in other municipalities or private sector experts.

The strategy may also include reporting structures that provide resources to other First Nations to share knowledge and experience.

The implementation phase will deliver on sub-plan for each of the critical action areas, and will include specific objectives and management plans for with clearly defined deliverables and completion dates. Implementation may have overlapping projects and varying timeframes. Each sub-plan will have individual reporting structures.

Accelerating the Circular Economy: NAN Environment, Climate Change, and Housing Symposium

On March 27-28, Nishnawbe Aski Nation hosted an Environment, Climate Change, and Housing symposium in Thunder Bay to bring together community experts in the areas of community infrastructure, housing, and environment. RCO had the opportunity to lead a full day session full of knowledge sharing on waste management and litter in NAN community.

The day was structured into three sessions, each engaging on various waste management topics and providing learning opportunities for communities.

  • Overview of Waste Management Project with NAN and EcoSuperior
  • Break-out sessions: gather feedback on the current state of waste management in NAN communities; identify priority areas that need to be addressed.
  • Success story: Matachewan community recycling program (Rose Thomas from Matachewan First Nation)
  • Introduction to managing hazardous waste, automobiles, and other large items
  • Best practices for separating and storing hazardous waste
  • Preparing waste for transportation
  • Exploring potential funding opportunities
  • Brainstorm and plan for the future of waste management in NAN communities
  • Introduction to waste audits, and why they are important to providing a baseline data for your community
  • Step-by-step process for conducting a waste audit
  • How to take immediate action to reduce waste in your community


The Waste Management project thus far has given RCO insight on the current state of waste management in NAN communities. Through the symposium, we’ve been able to gain additional information and identified priority areas on waste management in NAN:
  • Most communities do not yet have recycling programs; mainly landfills or dump sites
  • The main issue is getting waste materials out of communities
  • Many community landfills are out of regulation and are not maintained or monitored.
  • Hazardous waste, large appliances, and end of life vehicles are a major source of waste piling up in communities.
  • Landfills or dump sites are often close to the community or nearby lakes and creeks, causing safety concerns for the community and wildlife.
  • Education is required; however many communities do not know where to start.

Visit to Wunnumin Lake First Nation

In August 2019 we joined NAN on a community visit and waste assessment at Wunnumin Lake First Nation, a remote fly-in community north of Thunder Bay. The assessment, conducted by Ecologix Recycling examined the current waste management infrastructure within the community for the needs assessment component of the Waste Management Initiative.

The assessment included interviews with community members, Northern Store manager, Council members, and local recycling champion to gather information on how waste in managed, how materials get into the community, and overview of current infrastructure. NAN and Ecologix Recycling, with advisory support from RCO, is working to develop a recycling program in the community. Transportation is often the biggest hurdle for getting materials out of remote communities; however, changing seasons can provide opportunity to haul recycling out on winter roads.

The visit was an excellent learning opportunity for RCO, which will help our current and future work with NAN communities and First Nations across Canada.

Management of solid waste can be a challenging issue for many First Nations communities. This toolkit has been developed to help communities in making improvements in the way their waste is handled based on the needs and challenges they are experiencing.This toolkit is a resource of the Waste Management Initiative, a three-phase project of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation and Recycling Council of Ontario. The toolkit has been prepared by EcoSuperior with support from Recycling Council of Ontario.



Stay Connected

Receive selected updates of our activities happening across Canada and the World:


Become a Member

We offer collaborative opportunity and inspiration to redefine value in communities across Canada through showcase opportunities and putting circular economy concepts into action.