Greenland cleaning up its act

New environment minister promises to clean up landfills and stop polluting harbours

Greenland has a trash problem. Landfills are overflowing, the municipal incinerators don't work and waste is piling up on the streets.

And it's not just the land. The run-off from poorly managed landfills pours into the waters around the island nation.

But Kim Kielsen, Greenland's new environment minister, has had enough and said it is time to clean up the mess.

The minister has signed a letter of intent to clean up landfills and establish 'proper combustion solutions' for Greenland's waste problem. Currently, half of Greenland's garbage winds up in landfills, including batteries, chemicals and electronics. This means that the water flowing from the dumps contains toxins.

Environmental law expert Ellen Margrethe Basse said that the councils trying to clean up on their own will have their hands full.

"This is a general problem, and the level of knowledge and economy creates a limited ability to tackle the problem," Basse told Ingeniøren newspaper.

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Fund not enough
Even though the councils are responsible for cleaning up their own backyards, Kielsen said that the government must lend a hand.

"I cannot accept the risk to health created by open burning quite close to the population," he told Ingeniøren. "We also must protect our unique natural environment."

Since taking over as environment minister in November, Kielsen has focused on getting concrete waste projects underway. Greenland's government has also created its first environmental fund. Beginning in 2015, funds will be available to help localities combat waste.

"The environmental fund alone is not enough," said Kielsen. "Councils are still primarily responsible for waste management and funding, but there is great need for extra effort, so we are working together to significantly improve the environment."