Photo: Sabina Askholm Larsen, DTU Byg

Waste and waste water management in the Arctic requires locally adapted solutions

Thursday 28 Apr 16
by Sabina Askholm


Pernille Erland Jensen
Associate Professor
DTU Civil Engineering
+45 93 51 09 69

There is growing interest in technological solutions that can handle waste and waste water in the remote towns and villages in the Arctic. 

The distances are large in the Arctic, and the inhabited areas are often many hundred kilometres apart. This has increased interest in waste and waste water management solutions adapted to remote towns and villages, where connection to central solutions are not immediately available.

This was one of the conclusions of the international ARTEK Event 2016 conference recently held by the Arctic Technology Centre (ARTEK) at DTU Civil Engineering. With more than 100 participants and 55 presentations, attendance at the ARTEK Event 2016 was the highest since the conference started in 2005.

The theme of the conference was ‘Sanitation in Cold Climate Regions’, and especially to new methods for waste and wastewater management was on the agenda. The conference was held in the West Greenland town of Sisimiut where ARTEK trains Arctic BEng students specifically for working in Arctic conditions.

Focus on locally adapted and portable solutions 
Several coastal areas in Alaska are characterized by erosion as a result of climate change. In some places, the coasts are eroding by 25 metres inland each year, and in the coming years, there will be a need to move several small coastal towns.

"It’s clear to me that we have some common challenges across national borders, but that there’s a need to develop local solutions that meet the specific needs of the society for which they are developed."
Pernille Erland Jensen, Associate Professor, DTU Civil Engineering

The infrastructure in and to remote areas in the Arctic are often non-existing or, at best, sparse. This means that transporting materials can be extremely difficult, which is why it is important to develop solutions that to a large extent can be installed and operated by the local population, so that the residents in remote communities can have proper toilet and water conditions.

The architect Aaron Cooke is focusing his work on such a solution. He works as project manager at Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Alaska and was among the speakers at ARTETK Event 2016. The basic idea behind this project is that in many places in the Arctic it is necessary to deviate from the idea that a central solution to which all households are connected is the only right thing to do.

Aaron Cooke and several other speakers at the conference encouraged thinking along new and more flexible lines due to the special conditions.

Cooperation across the Arctic
The conference attracted participants from all Arctic countries: The USA, Canada, Russia, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark—including participants from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The broad interest provided the opportunity for getting acquainted with new technological solutions as well as new partners. Both aspects please Pernille Erland Jensen, Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering and the person responsible for ARTEK Event 2016.

“It has been very interesting to hear about the challenges facing the Arctic countries with regard to improving sanitary conditions in the most remote areas. It’s clear to me that we have some common challenges across national borders, but that there’s a need to develop local solutions that meet the specific needs of the society for which they are developed. It’s a somewhat difficult task.”

Even though the task is not easy, Pernille Erland Jensen remains confident. ARTEK Event 2016 served as a kick-off for several new working relationships, both at a scientific level and between the researchers and authorities responsible for waste and waste water management.

“The fact that more than 100 people found their way to Sisimiut to discuss some of the sanitary challenges we’re facing in the Arctic, is proof that there’s an interest in improving the conditions—both among researchers, businesses, and authorities,” concludes Pernille Erland Jensen.

Learn more about the BEng in Arctic Technology (English subtitles).