The burning question of Cayman’s garbage

The way we think about waste in Cayman is at the forefront these days, with reminders about Mt. Trashmore’s state popping up with news that some of the site’s scrap metal is now being shipped off Island.

The site’s appearance from the Esterly Tibbets bypass may seem to indicate fewer junked cars, but the overwhelming feature, the 60-foot tall mound of garbage, still dominates the Grand Cayman skyline.

The Observer, the Compass the Journal have all reported extensively on Cayman’s trash situaiton and some of the available options. Currently, Dart the company, behind the massive Camana Bay development located adjacent to the hundred-acre landfill site, is holding town hall meetings with various stakeholders to explore possible solutions to the dump dilemma.

“Dart Realty Cayman Ltd. supports the need for a comprehensive, sustainable solution to waste management,” says Christine Maltman, a senior manager with the Dart Group.

“There continues to be a great deal of discussion about the need to reduce waste at source and Dart is happy to be part of those discussions.”

In a statement to the Compass in early April, the Ministry of Works said it would be going out to tender “in the near future” for a comprehensive waste solution including the prospect of waste-to energy for electrical generation.

“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,” it stated.

“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,” the statement continued.

“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.”

Stuart Knox of Cayman’s Triquest Group has a different perspective on things. He represents Kearns Waste Sciences Group throughout the Caribbean, and the system his company has developed has one standout characteristic that might come as a shock to most waste-to-energy proponents.

The Kearns Disintegration Units are the brainchild of company founder John Kearns. They burn municipal solid waste at such a high temperature and for such a long period that the only waste product is hot air and ash aggregate.

Knox says that even the smoke is gasified, broken down in such a way that  the pollutants in it can be reburned, leaving behind only clean air.

The significance of this is that the plants will burn everything they are calibrated for, eliminating the need, from a waste management handling perspective, for recycling.

“The less we have to touch the waste, the better our health,” he says.

He says that fed into the plant in the right proportions, even sewage can be burned.

“Conventional mass incineration has a dark cloud hovering above it both literally and figuratively,” says Knox.

“There is a lot of byproduct the end user has to deal with that may even be worse than what went in. But our byproduct is just rock.”

He says the technology has been in development since 1983, being incrementally improved as new issues came up so it could be perfected.

“For the market size our system is second to none,” says Knox.

The company has approached the Cayman Islands Government, offering to  to run the plant, estimated to cost about $100million, for three years without payments.

“It would be a first for the Caribbean,” says Knox.

“All islands are in the same predicament as Cayman, in terms of the difficulties encountered with recycling, shipping waste off island, and dealing with toxic substances. This plant can burn things like tyres, batteries and used lubricant and all that it emits is hot air and rocks.”

He even points to experiments when the crews tossed propane tanks into the plant just to see what would happen. Nothing did.

“We are in a different box than other waste-to-energy plants, in that 1 megawatt we produce is just enough to run the plant, meaning we will not require additional electricity,” adds Knox.

He points out that most incineration and waste to energy plants actually require 20 to 50 per cent of the power they generate to run the plant.

– the only fossil fuels we would be burning would be the garbage itself,” says Knox.

Knox admits that while there has been interest in the plant, nobody yet wants to be the first to take the plunge.

“But, we were all afraid of Microsoft 10 years ago,” argues Knox.

“Understandably a government may not want to sign a long-term contract in this economic climate, but on the other hand, with these types of deals be they for electricity or water government must be willing to accept monopolies.”

But that just might be the new kind of thinking that Cayman may need to turn to.

“Instead of bringing trash to the landfill, bring it to us. Are we really that committed to landfills being the only answer?”

He notes t the same way

“Sure there is a cost but it gives you longevity. In 20 years, I can make that dump flat and green. Not only can we take it down, we can dig down and remove all the muck underneath it, block and dig out the dykes, and remediate the whole site.”

Mr. Knox says as the company behind the plant is Caymanian, their interest lies in making Cayman a greener place.

“There is no point in going green if you don’t protect the land, air and sea,” says Mr. Knox, noting it’s a favourite saying of Mr. Kearns.

“Recycling is very difficult here. We have the ability to change the way the Caribbean deals with its waste.”