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Zender Environmental Health & Research Group is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

What We Do

Arctic and Remote Community Research

We pride ourselves on continually seeking ways to better address isolated community environmental health issues.  We are privileged to work with tribes and indigenous communities throughout Alaska and beyond in waste management issues.

Our work allows us to identify rural community environmental program issues from a scientific lens at the regional,  statewide, and international level.

Through our technical assistance and training, job training, and various regional and statewide programs such as Backhaul Alaska, we work with 50 to nearly 100 different communities each year, the vast bulk of which are isolated Alaska Native Villages off the road system. That work involves intimate and extended communications on all aspects of the local environmental program, and the complex web of issues to which it is related. Because we work with communities until they are ready for it to stop or pause, or staff have community relationships that go back over a decade or more. It allows us not only a unique position to learn from and assist communities through exchanging local village-based lessons and solutions, it allows to identify rural community environmental program issues from a scientific lens at the regional,  statewide, and international level.

When we identify a common roadblock to community program improvement, we seek to understand and share it and its potential solutions through collaborative research projects and initiative white papers. While we do not conduct research for research’ sake, we will work with any one and any entity on any idea with promise for an affordable waste program or system offering ecological and/or human health improvement.

In this ‘time immemorial’ context, the solution communities seek is there now. At Zender, we believe in community and we believe we can play a role in its uncovering.

Small, rural, and isolated communities face overwhelming challenges related to climate change, sociocultural upheaval, economic stress, and multiple health disparities. Unfortunately, waste management is yet another challenge piled on, and its unique technical, infrastructural, jurisdictional, and economical burden is difficult to unpack so to better adjust the load.  We believe the solution(s) does exist — or will soon –because the communities we work with possess a core deep environmental knowledge, how it works, and what will work in it, and they will continue to persist regardless of any circumstance, past, present, or future. In this ‘time immemorial’ context, the solution communities seek is there now. At Zender, we believe in community and we believe we can play a role in its uncovering.

Partial List of Workgroups and Projects

We collaborate with a number of entities in conducting research and projects, as well as produce our own white papers and work. Below is a partial list of workgroups and projects.

Arctic Council (2019)

Best waste management practices used in remote Arctic communities in Alaska, Canada, and Finland. A desk study for the Aleut International Association and The Government of Canada,. . Findings were presented at ACAP and SDWG meetings as well as conference sponsored by the Govt. of Finland on Arctic and Barents Sea Waste Management.

Hokkaido University (2019-2021)

Human-waste relations in Arctic society from a cultural anthropological perspective. A comprehensive waste practices survey to Alaska Native Villages. Prior work included providing a 2019 seminar at the University on the same topic.

Cold Climate/High Altitudes International Anaerobic Digestion Group (2021- current)

A newly formed, international consortium of researchers, non-profits, academics, and government entities focused on anaerobic digestion (AD) in cold (Arctic/sub-Arctic) climates and at high altitudes.  The goal of the group is to develop and pilot AD systems that are deployable in rural areas that will address both a sanitation issue and potentially provide a source of renewable energy.

Solid Waste Alaska Taskforce (SWAT) (2015- current)

SWAT is a group of representatives from the solid waste service providers who work statewide – Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) Solid Waste Program, Kawerak, Inc., and our organization. SWAT members work independently with communities through their institutions, and come together to identify areas of commonality where institutional leveraging can help a single community to an entire region. Additionally, we are able to pool our experiences to identify patterns and emerging conditions that are difficult for a single community to control and potentially best addressed at a macro-level. Project and program ideas that have developed as a result include Backhaul Alaska,  Product Stewardship, and the Solid Waste Summit Technology Showcase. 

Shared Pacific:  A Guam-Alaska Partnership on Waste Solutions (2020-current)

As part of the Solid Waste Alaska Task Force, an official collaboration with Guam was started in 2020 with the mission to: Collaborate with Alaskan Tribes & Pacific Islanders to protect our peoples and natural resources by identifying and sharing sustainable zero waste solutions. Objectives of the collaboration include developing Product Stewardship legislation, developing scalable, relevant and appropriate waste technologies, telling the story of microplastics and the impact to indigenous communities, and sharing knowledge to improve solid waste management. See for more information.

Permafrost Landfill Redesign Group (2020 – current)

A collaboration with the University of Illinois and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to develop improved freezeback landfill performance for Northern communities progressively at bench-, field- and community-scale operation.

EPA Regional/State/Tribal Innovation Project (RSTIP) (2020 – current)Header text

This project with EPA Region 10 and the Office of Research and Development employs a human-centered design approach  to create the framework and design for a mobile application (app) for Backhaul Alaska. The framework and design will be created to support different user needs, including the needs of tribal and municipal government staff, local community members, program administrators, and others. The app will help individuals in rural Alaska villages manage inventory, track shipments, and submit observations that impact waste management operations.

Health Impacts of Waste in Rural Alaska Group (2018-)

A Statewide group of professionals working on issues related to health impacts of waste in rural Alaska including health messaging,  burning waste issues, and soil and water contamination.

EPA Solid Waste Program Budgeting for Alaska Tribal Communities (2018)

Through a  subcontract from Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), development of a tool to help rural Alaska Tribes create a budget for their community’s waste management program/utility.

EPA Training Project on Exposures to Contaminants from Waste (2020 – current)

Through a subcontract from Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), development of training course targeted to rural Alaska communities on waste disposal exposures, and identifying and planning community interventions.

UARCTIC – Arctic Water Sanitation and Health (2021)

Module lecture on Solid Waste Handling in Alaska as part of the Technical University of Denmark’s waste management course in UARCTIC’s – Arctic Water Sanitation and Health (WASH) international summer school course.

Selected Reports, White Papers, and Literature

Arctic Council, Best Waste Management Practices for Small and Remote Arctic Communities.  A study of best waste management practices used in remote Arctic communities in Alaska, Canada, and Finland Interim Project Report January 5, 2019.  Produced for Aleut International Association and The Government of Canada)     

Conditions, Risks, and Contributing Factors of Solid Waste Management in Alaska Native Villages: A Discussion with Case Study

Sustainable Statewide Backhaul Program Draft Plan, 2017 

White Paper – The Relationship between Alaska’s Class III Landfill Status and the USEPA Guidance on the Award and Management of General Assistance Agreements for Tribes and Intertribal Consortia and its Potential Impact on Remote Alaska Native Tribes and Communities   

Self-reported health effects associated with solid waste disposal in four Alaska Native villages 

Role of Landfill Roads in Alaska Village Health: Addressing Health Risks Related to Waste Disposal Sites in Rural and Isolated Alaska Native Villages: The role that source-resident distance plays1 Landfill roads paper, 2005   

Solid Waste Management on Indian Reservations: Limitations of Conventional Solid Waste Management Engineering, Lynn Zender, Dissertation: University of California, Davis 1999  

Compost Toilets as an Alternative to the Honeybucket in a Rural Alaska Native Village, Simone Sebalo, Masters Thesis, University of California, Davis 2008  

Left Out in the Cold: Solid Waste Management and the Risks to Resident Health in Native Village Alaska, 2003  

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Statewide Integrated Waste Management Plan Assessment Report, Developed by Zender Environmental, 2007  

A Community-Based Application Of Software To Conduct A Probabilistic Assessment Of Exposure To Contaminants In Indigenous Subsistence Foods. Chaisson A, C. Franklin C.,L. Zender, C. Chaisson, R. Sheldon, and J. Foran, Environmental Justice, Vol. 5, No. 6, 306-311, Dec 2012.