Closing George Town dump, ignoring the perfect solution

Letter to the Editor

Recently, Minister Mark Scotland was on a local talk show, once again reminding us that the real reason we need to close the George Town dump is that we simply cannot afford to keep it there. He also spent lot of time trying to dispel the belief that Wheelabrator had presented government with a perfect solution that was being ignored. 

I found his comments to be quite interesting, because the arguments currently in circulation in favour of keeping the dump in George Town is that the waste could simply be mined down and burned to create energy, thus dismantling the mountain, producing free electricity and preventing the contamination of a new site. On the surface, this seems to make sense; however, as Minister Scotland who – apart from being the representative for Bodden Town is also an engineer clearly explained – if it was that simple, waste to energy would have happened by now.  

According to Minister Scotland, the last government hired consultants to help them figure out if waste to energy was worth pursuing at George Town dump; and although the consultants agreed that it was possible, they apparently raised some very significant challenges in their report, which remain central to the current debate.  

According to what I understood from the minister’s comments, the consultants said it would take about $120 million to get the new system set up and then it would require on-going annual funding of about $20 million for operation. 

They also estimated that two-thirds of the waste buried deep inside Mount Trashmore was not suitable for burning in a waste to energy plant and went on to say that mining the waste to separate out its burnable components would be very slow and take about 20 years.  

According to Minister Scotland, the consultants also advised that government would need to buy more land next to the dump to locate the waste to energy plant. As he put it, “Government simply does not have the money to do this”. 

However, despite these obvious challenges, there are many who still believe that Wheelabrator – a big profit-driven US company – could somehow step in and magically present us with an affordable, timely, space saving plan to pump power out of Mt. Trashmore. According to other sources, Wheelabrator “had provided all the required elements to successfully complete the project and a comprehensive breakdown of their approach.” If that were true, then details have certainly never been made public. But if you insist on believing that line, I have a gold mine in Cayman Brac that I want to sell you.  

It is obvious to me that waste-to-energy at the George Town dump would be a waste of money, because any sustainable solution to Cayman’s waste problems must rest on the introduction of a comprehensive island-wide recycling programme so that another landfill mountain doesn’t simply pile up. Anything else would be a waste. Determining exactly what government’s plans are for the recycling component of a new facility is where our actions should be targeted. This, my friends is the perfect solution that is being constantly ignored.  

Sherry Ann Smith 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. WTE was the in thing when I was working at Net News back in 2006/7. Despite official visits to the USA by MLAs and civil servants to see it in operation nothing ever happened and there is probably a good reason for that.

    The problem with Mt Trashmore is no one really knows what is in the tip but I think it is generally accepted that it contains materials that would render breaking it up for incineration potentially very risky. In the past a lot of the wood imported into the Cayman Islands was treated with arsenic, other heavy metal compounds have also been dumped there along with things like asbestos, unwanted chemicals, paint, used engine oil and various plastics that release PCBs when burnt. It is a nasty, toxic heap.

    At the same time as WTE was under consideration a New Zealand company offered CIG a comprehensive re-cycling plan as an alternative to what became the Matrix scrap metal scandal.

    The proposals, which were submitted in September/October 2006 and completely ignored, included a DVD of their work in the Cook Islands. The scheme would have handled all re-usable materials raising revenue for CIG and creating jobs, all with very little initial cost. In fact once established it would have been a totally locally-run operation.

    I later interviewed Jean-Michel Cousteau at R-C and we discussed re-cycling. He pointed out that every year the Cayman Islands return thousands of empty shipping containers that could be used to export reusable waste.

    The whole thing is a real no-brainer. I’ve seen tiny islands in the central Pacific with a greater commitment to re-cycling than the Cayman Islands. Unfortunately, there appears to be one huge problem with CIG – a little attitude called Not Invented Here. They know it is a good idea, they know it will work but they for sure are not going to do it because other people are suggesting it.

    I first went to the Cayman Islands over 20 years ago. In the following two decades the islands have changed a great deal as has the rest of the world. But whereas the UK, where I live now, has embraced things like recycling, alternative energy (you see solar panels everywhere) and electric/hybrid vehicles the Cayman Islands seems content to remain stuck in the past.

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  2. I applaud the thoughtful comments of Sherry Ann Smith and could not agree more that mandatory recycling is an obvious aspect to dealing with Cayman’s waste problem.
    This is a national issue and there will always be obstructionists who think of themselves and their districts before the good of the country but the will of the majority must prevail. You cannot allow the tail to wag the dog.

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