The original Arctic Council Action Plan to Eliminate Pollution of the Arctic, now known as the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP), was adopted by the SAO in 2001 and provided the first mandate for work on hazardous substances. The initial work of ACAP focused on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans, mercury, obsolete pesticides and cleaner production. Subsequently, ACAP developed projects also on brominated flame retardants and created the integrated hazardous waste management strategy for the Russian Federation (IHWMS). ACAP was established as a working group by the Arctic Ministers in Salekhard in 2006 and gradually formed subsidiary expert groups (EGs) to tackle specific issues. In 2015, ACAP’s six Expert Groups were reorganized, and the EGs on Obsolete Pesticides, PCBs and IHWMS were merged as an Expert Group on Hazardous Waste. In 2018, at the WG meeting in Toronto, it was thoroughly discussed to include municipal solid and liquid waste, as well as plastics and microplastics in the mandate. This was reflected in ACAP’s Work Plan approved by the Arctic Ministers in Rovaniemi, Finland in May 2019. Thus, the EG on Hazardous Waste was renamed to the Expert Group on Waste.
The Expert Group on Waste supports and oversees pilot projects that demonstrate environmentally sound management of waste in the Arctic. Substandard waste disposal practices may contribute to contamination of soil, water and air through releases of toxic substances. Improper waste management can also lead to transboundary emissions, for example due to the open burning of waste or use of rudimentary waste incinerators without pollution controls. ACAP’s Strategy to Address Contamination of the Arctic Environment and its People for 2016-2020 also points to the impacts of climate change on the storage of hazardous waste and other deposits, increasing environmental risks.
The mandate of the ACAP Expert Group on Waste is to develop, coordinate and facilitate Arctic Council demonstration projects that: (1) improve environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, (2) reduce the releases of contaminants from industrial and municipal waste into the environment, and (3) support proper municipal waste management for both solid and liquid waste, and enable communities, including indigenous and remote communities, to develop more sustainable and efficient waste management practices to prevent contamination and marine litter.
Being ACAP’s subsidiary body, the Waste EG acts as a strengthening and supporting mechanism, proposing actions to reduce releases of pollutants from waste, as well as to reduce their environmental, human health and socio-economic risks in the Arctic.
Through pilot projects and work of the Waste EG, the ACAP WG demonstrates opportunities for reduction of pollutant releases and improved waste management, but relies on its Member States to contribute to scaling up efforts through strengthening their national policies.