What’s in your garbage?

The growing pile of trash at Mount Trashmore received about 1205 tons of residential waste in January alone – all those food containers, newspapers, and packaging we find ourselves innocently slinging into the bin all day long.

On Grand Cayman, there is an estimated 450 tons of all types of waste entering the George Town Landfill. Of this amount, approximately 225-250 tons per day are municipal garbage.

It’s all up to us to do our bit until recycling comes into play. So, what’s in your garbage?

Breaking it down
The Department of Environmental Health’s Leon Watson has noted a lot of the trash going to the landfill is plastic. Light, strong and cheap, it’s everywhere these days, and hard to avoid.

One strategy consumers have adopted in other jurisdictions is avoiding purchasing products that are packaged in plastic, avoiding plastic bags, or staying away from excessive packaging in general. Here in Cayman, a small step in that direction has been taken with Cayman BECOME, the new plastic bag reduction campaign launched by the Cayman Corporate Green Team Network.

Cutting back on the waste you generate at home is a real challenge without a recycling program and with limited access to packaging options, which is where we find ourselves in Cayman.

In other parts of the world separating your garbage has become a way of life, whether you have green credentials or not, and indeed in some countries the refuse collectors will not dispose of the contents  of a bin if it is not the “right” kind of refuse for that designated bin.

But it does seem that the public in Cayman do have the will to recycle.

When a  glass crusher was brought to the island a couple of years ago and loaned to the National Trust to gauge public support for recycling glass, they were snowed under with bottles, showing that  the public were willing to drop off bottles at a given location.

However, at the moment we are forced to throw out glass and all our  other rubbish into the bins. 1205 tons is a lot of waste but how does that translate into actual garbage put out in the average household? The Observer on Sunday decided to investigate what  a week-long tally  of garbage looked like in one Cayman household of two plus a dog, compared to a couple with two cats living in Toronto, a city with a well established recycling and waste diversion programme.

Tallying it up
Starting off the Cayman dustbin tally for Tuesday morning, a two-day collection resulting from the final days of a long weekend was surprisingly modest: five beer bottles, one soda can, a cardboard beer package, seven paper towels, a magazine, plastic wrapping from a package of chocolate Easter eggs, a plastic egg carton, two Styrofoam meat trays, three used paper coffee filters and grinds, six or seven crumpled up foil Easter egg wrappers, a plastic chocolate wrapper, a cardboard milk container, a cardboard pasta box, and a plastic wrapper and cardboard tray for a package of smoked fish.

Add to that the bathroom tally of six paper towels, an empty paper towel roll, a shampoo bottle and twelve q-tips. Oh, and a tidy clump of dog hair swept up from the floor.

The Cayman couple’s tally going back to the previous Tuesday found an additional:

2 newspapers

1 cardboard milk cartons

1 cardboard juice carton

7 coffee filters

3 wine bottles

15 pieces of plastic cling wrap from cheeses and food storage

3 glass water bottles

5 plastic drink bottles

9 wire clothes hangers

3 plastic dry cleaning bags

3 empty styrofoam meat/fish trays

2 styrofoam trays containing frozen fish

2 plastic frozen vegetable bags

2 cardboard pasta boxes

3 glass tomato sauce jars

45 paper towels

2 paper towel rolls

3 plastic candy packages

9 spring onion ends

2 shallot peelings

1 old pear

3 tomatoes

1 bunch parsley

1 plastic cream cheese container

1 plastic coffee container

1 butter stick wrapper

3 plastic laundry detergent containers

1 plastic dish detergent bottle

10 lint tray contents

3 plastic ziplock bags

All this then gets picked up mixed together and then added to the ever growing pile which is Mount Trashmore.

In contrast the apartment-dwelling Toronto couple separates their garbage into recyclables (cans, bottles and paper) and what’s left over, which goes in the garbage.

In addition, Toronto residents who live in houses also separate their organic waste from the regular trash through the city’s green bin programme, meaning trash like potato peels, coffee filters, and even used tissues are collected separately and taken to a composting facility.

In the case of this particular couple, on Tuesday morning, in their recyclables bag were: one glass olive oil bottle, two glass water bottles, one wine bottle, three newspapers, three cat food cans and one cardboard egg container.

In the garbage were:  six egg shells, two coffee filters, various vegetable peelings, meat bones, and the litter from the kitty box. Also found were four plastic berry containers, a plastic egg package, three magazines, two clear plastic produce bags and six or seven paper towels. Bathroom garbage was three razors, one used toilet paper roll, and five paper towels.

Compare and contrast
Had the Cayman couple been living in Toronto, the

5 beer bottles,

1 soda can,

1 cardboard beer package,

1 plastic cream cheese container

1 plastic coffee container

2 newspapers

2 cardboard milk cartons

1 cardboard juice carton

7 coffee filters

3 wine bottles

3 glass water bottles

3 cardboard pasta boxes

3 glass tomato sauce jars

5 empty Styrofoam meat/fish trays

58 paper towels

4 paper towel rolls

1 plastic shampoo bottle

3 plastic laundry detergent containers, and

1 plastic dish detergent bottle that could all have been recycled.

What is recycled in Cayman
Currently the DEH is recycling used motor oil, tires, scrap metals, derelict vehicles, aluminium cans and lead batteries. All products are recycled off-island except the tires, which are being shredded for future use.

In addition, the three major supermarkets have DEH Recycling Bins located in their parking lots for aluminium cans.

The Ministry and DEH will be going out to tender in the near future for a comprehensive waste solution including the prospect of waste-to energy for electrical generation.

In a statement to the Observer, the Ministry notes that:

“It is hoped that successful bidder will be able to undertake and make the landfill operations ‘greener’ and more environmentally friendly within a short period of operation. No firm decision has been made as to the final state of the existing landfill but it will be determined based on the successful proposal accepted. Many options are available to manage the existing landfill.”

It is anticipated that when the new waste management facility becomes operational that recycling will significantly increase.