How the George Town dump came to be

Rubbish was used to fill swamps

The start of government’s involvement with garbage is documented in the Cayman Islands Colonial Report for 1959 and 1960. It states: “An incinerator has been built on the grounds of the Government Hospital, while a regular garbage disposal service has been instituted in George Town.” 

At the same time, a public health officer was training in Jamaica and “it is hoped that his return will herald a more satisfactory organisation in public health and sanitation.” Earlier reports indicate that spraying for mosquitoes was one of the health officer’s main responsibilities.  

So what did people do with their garbage before 1959? 

The simple answer is that most of the time they burned it. That solution must be prefaced by the explanation that there wasn’t much garbage to begin with, simply because everything got used and re-used until it was used up. Any leftover food was used to feed the chickens. Clothing was handed down and when it became too threadbare it was cut up for quilts or crocus rugs or, finally, rags to scrub the floor with. Any container was kept to carry and store goods. Small tin cans had their edges beaten smooth so they could serve as cups. 

Post-World War II prosperity, an increasing population and the beginnings of the tourist industry brought more consumer goods and, inevitably, more garbage. The Colonial Report for 1966-70 states: “The growth of George Town and the residential areas surrounding it has progressively increased the burden of the refuse disposal service.”  

Happily, the report reveals that the garbage collection service had added two new trucks to its original disposal service. 

But where did the trucks take the garbage they collected? 

A wonderful little book called You and Your Government was produced in 1971-72 by the Government Information Service to explain constitutional development and the responsibilities of various officers in the civil service.  

Health Inspector McNee McLaughlin supervised garbage collection, which was by that time operating twice weekly throughout Grand Cayman, including the hotels, but some outlying areas were not included. 

The book then states: “The rubbish collected is being dumped in swamps in order to fill these and when each area is filled the land will revert to the owner for his use.” 

One such arrangement led to what is now the George Town landfill. 

The arrangement was made with George Seymour, whose ownership of the land came about in a way that was probably typical. In an interview with Compass reporter Jewel Levy, Mr. Seymour recalled going to sea in 1953 when he was 21. 

He sent money home regularly to his mother, well-known hospital worker Maude Seymour, to pay instalments on a piece of land he hoped to use eventually for raising cattle. Returning home in 1963, he found much of the land to be pure swamp, especially in the rainy season. Mr. Seymour began collecting boxes and crates from stores and dumping this material on his land to fill it so he could create a grass piece. 

Then, because he was dumping, other people started dumping on it. He built fences, but they just got knocked down. 

The biggest blow came when officers from the Agriculture Department advised him that if he raised cows on that land he would not be able to sell them for meat until 10 years after the area was no longer used as a dump. 

In January 1972, Chief Medical Officer Dr. H. M. McGladdery was also in charge of Public Health. He took the advice of Senior Public Health Officer O. L. Atterbury, who saw Mr. Seymour’s land and apparently thought it could be a permanent garbage dump site. 

Dr. McGladdery wrote a letter to Administrative Officer Vernon Jackson suggesting that Mr. Seymour be contacted as the owner “of the present rubbish dump”. His idea was that government would have use of the land for eight years for garbage disposal. 

The Cayman Islands National Archive contains files from the Central Registry, which includes the correspondence. On 28 December, 1972, Mr. Seymour wrote to Senior Administrative Secretary Dennis Foster, agreeing to the use of “my property at North Sound” for the purpose of dumping garbage. His letter was accompanied by a survey map that showed the shape of the 20.15-acre site. 

Mr. Seymour wrote: “This operation is expected to raise the surface of my said land at least three feet in five years.” 

He subsequently sold the land to a private individual and bought property in North Side to fulfil his dream of raising cattle. 

Meanwhile, in 1974, the Legislative Assembly passed the Public Health Law, giving the governor power to make regulations for garbage disposal. He and Executive Council made those regulations the following year, giving authority to a Health Services Department. 

The burning of garbage on private premises was now prohibited in areas that had collection service, unless permission was obtained in writing. 

All garbage and refuse from the service areas had to be deposited at the landfill disposal sites designated by the department. 

The public was supposed to refrain from depositing any garbage or refuse on any property belonging to another, or on or within the vicinity of any public highway, beach waterfront or public place. 

The term “garbage” included “waste food, vegetables, fruits, meats and other putrescible matter”. This made it distinct from “refuse”, which included “waste paper, bottles, cans, boxes, yard clippings and trash”.  

The Cayman Islands Report for 1975 (no longer Colonial) mentions two new garbage trucks extending the collection area. It refers to this accomplishment as taking place “in the environmental health services section” of Medical Services. 

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.