Kivalina, Alaska – On March 4, the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation awarded funding to the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to work with the Tribal and City Councils of Kivalina to develop a shovel ready project to provide biochar sanitation to the village. Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community in the Northwest Arctic, is among seventeen other communities that received an award out of a total pool of 589 applicants.
The biochar project addresses sanitation as the most critical opportunity to improve public health in the village. Residential homes in Kivalina lack toilets and running water, and people use honey buckets (paint buckets lined with plastic trash bags and covered with portable seats) to store and haul human waste. Located on a barrier island, Kivalina is highly susceptible to erosion and the impacts of climate change. Plans to relocate the village have limited investment in basic water and sewer services.
Kivalina Tribal and City Councils are partnering with the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to co-design a pilot project to address these issues. The project will include designs for community-scale waste management systems, dry toilets, and a biochar reactor that converts human solid waste into charcoal and substrate for fertilizer.
“This world will never run short of compassionate people who see the through their hearts the communities that struggle for what everyone sees as the simple things in life and for that, we are grateful,” said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina City Administrator. “While governments wait for some communities to relocate and refuse to fund projects because of that, others move forward to address little things that would make living conditions in rural communities better, and improve health and wellness.”
Stanley Hawley, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Kivalina, recognized that “[g]aining international attention to Kivalina’s human waste issue is no small feat. The Re-Locate Project deserves the highest credit for this achievement because historically, the village, regional, and State’s efforts to address the sanitation issues have become hampered by policy that restricts investment in communities with aspirations to move, resulting in high rates of infection from untreated sewage and solid waste. Although still in the planning stages, addressing the human waste issue in our village can finally realize some gains with this new development. We are thankful for the time, work and dedication that the Re-Locate Project put into addressing our village issues, and will extend our hand to the new partners.”
Partners will improve upon, engineer, and adapt Biochar Reactor technology developed for sub-Saharan Africa by the Climate Foundation to Arctic conditions. These reactors process human waste into energy, biochar briquettes, and useful raw materials. Biochar is free of biological pathogens and may help reduce the rates of communicable disease in villages currently using honey buckets. A winner of the Gates Foundation dry toilet challenge, the Climate Foundation will work with Kivalina leaders and Re-Locate to apply its success at developing innovative waste management technology around the world to benefit Kivalina and other Arctic village communities.
Other benefits include the entrepreneurial potential for biochar to be sold in the region and the system’s resilience to climate change. “Biochar reactors require no underground pipes, generate their own energy as a byproduct, and are easily transportable by shipping container to possible future village sites being planned in response to the impacts of climate change on Kivalina,” said Dr. Brian von Herzen, physicist, inventor, and founder of the Climate Foundation, a nonprofit with offices in Oregon and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Re-Locate, a transdisciplinary and global collective, will continue working with Kivalina’s City and Tribal Councils on this project, which it initiated two years ago. The collective is collaborating with Kivalina to support village relocation away from the threats of climate change. Re-Locate projects locate, make visible, and bring action to the political, social, and environmental issues underlying relocation. It will use the award to coordinate efforts to co-design the new waste management system with leaders and residents in Kivalina, government agencies, and expert consultants across the state of Alaska and around the world. International collaborators include Dr. Guenter Langergraber, who heads the Institute of Sanitary Engineering and Water Pollution Control at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.
“Local relationships, roles, and responsibilities are critical to understand, visualize, and integrate into the design of any new waste management plan,” said Michael Gerace, founder and chief curator of Re-Locate. “Biochar systems and dry toilets play an important role, but the success of the technology depends on its effective integration with and support of the autonomously functioning practices that are operating in the village already.”
The Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), composed of the highest-level environmental authorities from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, funded $1.2 million in grants under CEC’s North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action program to address environmental problems at the local level.
Read more about the award here.