Citizen participation is the key to environmental protection and effective waste management, a panel of Caribbean parliamentarians heard recently at the regional Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting held in Grand Cayman.
‘This is one of those topics that cause most politicians to bristle,’ said MLA Rolston Anglin, who is a member of Cayman’s Solid Waste Management Committee, and who led a presentation on the issue.
‘We understand what most people and groups who are passionate about environmental protection are saying; however, when we juxtapose this against economic development it becomes a political minefield.’
Mr. Anglin expressed his optimism about the future of waste management in the Cayman Islands, where a number of new initiatives are intended to turn current practices around.
‘Increasingly, our constituents are demanding that we come up with a sustainable solution to manage municipal solid waste,’ he said.
Waste management incorporates collection, reuse, storage and disposal aspects that must be tailored to suit the communities it serves and meet environmental considerations.
On Grand Cayman, the Island’s landfill will see some drastic changes in the not-too distant future.
A new mass burn waste-to-energy facility will essentially mine the existing George Town landfill to produce electricity.
Mr. Anglin said that by turning to waste-to-energy technology, Cayman’s waste management strategy will transform refuse into a resource, the by-products of which he believes to be manageable given the country’s small landmass.
And it will have an added environmental benefit in terms of air quality.
‘The energy produced will provide clean electricity while reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels. And it is envisaged that the emissions from the facility will also be more environmentally friendly than those of the present electricity producer,’ he said.
Despite this ambitious project, however, Cayman still faces the problem of the existing landfill site.
He says that not only are steps being taken to ensure mining the existing site will not create more harm than good, but that any new landfill site will need to meet stringent standards that will be set through new regulations, likely under existing law.
‘This is where we as legislators come in: we should ensure that our landfills are regulated,’ Mr. Anglin said.
‘This is crucial as the landfill is one of the most important aspects of the entire waste management process. Consideration should be given to mandating liners, leachate treatment and landfill gas collection systems,’ he said.
Mr. Anglin said recycling will also play a role in the waste management strategy. He remarked that there are real economic implications to instituting recycling programmes, citing the importance of high levels of citizen involvement so that the desired benefits can be accrued.
‘Success means ensuring that the recycling programme is well understood by the public, which involves time and public relations, as well as an efficient collection system,’ he said.
Mr. Anglin said that due to volume, the Cayman Islands may not be able to start as robust a recycling programme as some would like, which can’t be helped.
‘However, if we do recycle, it will sort at the source certain items that cannot be put through the waste-to-energy plant,’ he said.
‘This is easier than having to sort at the site which can involve elaborate conveyor systems and even human sorters; this can sometimes be more expensive than starting up a recycling programme.’
Mr. Anglin also discussed the use of recycling programmes in specific industries, which could allow Cayman to take advantage of the large quantities of homogeneous waste they produce.
Some examples include printer cartridges, obsolete office equipment, paper from the financial services sector; bottles and aluminium cans from the bar/restaurant sector and plant debris from the gardening sector.
The Chamber of Commerce, for example, is exploring a bottle crushing programme. Aside from eliminating significant numbers of bottle from being processed through Cayman’s main solid waste management system, the by-product can be sold to asphalt producers for use in road building.
‘This would truly be a win-win-win situation,’ said Mr. Anglin.