The modest man working on the trail next to Newfoundland’s Placentia Bay explained that the trash washing up on the beaches mostly came from ships at sea and the major cities of the eastern U.S. He told a couple of American visitors to Arnold’s Cove last July that trash floated northeast with the ocean currents, into the huge bay that opens toward the southwest, and onto the beaches at the head of the bay—next to his town.

He admitted he had filled the big bags of trash himself, tons of the stuff, that lined the beaches for later collection, and he would start cleaning up the new, fresh garbage as soon as he finished his trail maintenance. A volunteer who was obviously proud of his beautiful cove, he seemed to be reluctant to be too critical about the vast amounts of ocean trash his community inherited.

The Nova Scotia town of Truro, at the head of the Bay of Fundy, has a newspaper that is not as reluctant to express forceful editorial opinions about ocean trash. The Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, is an even larger estuary than Placentia Bay, and it also faces southwest directly toward the garbage zone fostered by the same ocean currents. The Truro Daily News recently came out with a strongly worded editorial condemning an announcement by the Canadian navy that it plans to start dumping garbage from naval ships when they are patrolling in the Arctic Ocean.

After criticizing the human habit of dumping trash and garbage into oceans and lakes, the paper focused specifically on the proposal to start dumping in the Arctic. “There is no excuse for this. If the country wants to use or exploit a region, it should be prepared to deal with its garbage. Ship it back out—whatever it takes. We’ve been through this all before. Let’s not mess up an area just because it’s a long way from home for those calling the shots,” the newspaper commented acidly.

The new naval rules about the Arctic Ocean will allow its ships to dump food waste and garbage if they are more than 22 kilometers (12 miles) offshore. Ship captains have become worried that keeping garbage onboard was no longer an option, particularly since the Arctic is becoming so warm. Increasingly, the garbage presents a health hazard for the sailors—the ships are becoming smelly garbage scows, so the refuse needs to be dumped overboard. In the words of an internal navy memo, “these food remnants may decay or putrefy and generate an occupational health-and-safety issue on board.”

The Navy is defensive about its proposed practice. According to Lt.-Cmdr. James Dziarski, “we’re spending a little bit more time up North, and as we do that we’re finding we have to keep garbage on board a little bit longer and it putrefies after a bit of time.” Another spokesperson, Sue Stefko, explained that the Navy is developing a plan to “garburate” (to pulp up) the food waste before sending it overboard. She added that it would only be done for space or health reasons on the ships.

The Inuit are heated up about the plan, and they don’t mind speaking out about it, just as the Truro newspaper did. Mary Simon, President of the group Inuit Tapiriit AKanatami, expressed strong opposition to any further pollution of the Arctic Ocean. She feels that dumping garbage into the sea can only increase the dangers of global warming. She worries about the number of ships that will be dumping into the waters and the long-term impacts of their actions. “We have hunting and fishing that goes on all along the coast of the Arctic Ocean,” she adds. “When you get rid of one problem, you shouldn’t create another problem that would probably have a much larger impact on the people that live there.”

An obviously outspoken advocate for the Inuit, she added, “people that leave garbage should pick it up. The Arctic is a clean place, but it won’t be clean much longer if people don’t clean up after themselves. It’s certainly not the Inuit that created the pollution.” She issued a strong statement at a news conference: “We call on the Canadian Navy, and other ships, to exercise restraint in changing their practices in this regard.”

Other Inuit spokespersons have been equally vehement in their opposition to the possibility of garbage fouling their beaches. Duane Smith, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, expressed his concern about the stresses the Arctic is experiencing due to global warming, the advent of shipping in the Arctic Ocean, and the issues of Canadian sovereignty along the Northwest Passage. “I would ask people to stop and think. The Arctic is not a dumping ground, in the sea or on land. When people go camping, they take their garbage with them and leave the wilderness as they found it,” he said.

Others are just as concerned. The leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, also protested the Navy’s plans because of the stresses in the Arctic from the rapid loss of ocean ice and the rapidly warming temperatures. She said that “giving the navy a license to pollute the North sends an appalling message to the rest of the world.”

The mayor of an Inuit community, Darlene Willie from Arctic Bay, added her concerns to the chorus of opponents. The Arctic Ocean is “where we do our hunting. That’s where we eat,” she said. “Even if they treat their waste a number of times, it just makes a lot more sense to go to the nearest settlement to dispose of it.” She added that the local hunters always bring back their garbage when they return from hunting on the land.