Overcoming Mount Trashmore

The question of what should be done with the towering heap of garbage that is Mount Trashmore has plagued Cayman for decades. 

Sitting 80 feet high in the middle of George Town district, the landfill can be seen by tourists who arrive by the thousands each day on cruise ships and who initially think they’re looking at a hill. 

This hill of garbage, which receives between 320 and 350 tons of rubbish a day, has been subject to several studies and reports over the years as successive governments grapple to deal with the issue. 

The latest proposal involves Dart Realty remediating and capping the site, a process that will take several years. The site would continue to be used for waste disposal while an alternate proposed site is developed in Midland Acres in Bodden Town. 

Opponents to the Bodden Town dump proposal say the George Town site can be expanded and the existing landfill turned into a waste-to-energy facility, thus reducing the size of the landfill heap and dealing with new solid waste delivered either to the expanded existing site or another location at the same time. 

Dart Realty’s Chief Operating Officer Jackie Doak said creating a future waste management solution at or adjacent to the existing landfill in George Town is not a desirable option. “Given the plans for the future airport connector road that would run the length of the existing landfill connecting to the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, siting a new facility in the current location, even if enough land were there, would result in even more residents passing it every day, as well as the making the George Town landfill a part of their first and last impression of Cayman,” Mrs. Doak said. 

Dart is examining the 68-acre George Town site to determine what remediation work needs to be done to make the area environmentally safe. 

If the waste management part of the ForCayman Investment Alliance deal – the far-reaching agreement between the Cayman Islands Government and Dart – goes ahead, at some point within the next decade Mount Trashmore could indeed become the grassy hill tourists think it is. 

Martin Edelenbos, engineering coordinator of waste management for Dart Realty, explained some of the challenges the company faces with the site. “The waste mound at George Town Landfill is now about 80 feet high, it is mostly uncovered, there is no liner beneath the waste, no leachate collection or treatment, no storm water management and no landfill gas management,” he said.  

In 2007, the government commissioned solid waste consultants Gersham, Brickner and Bratton Inc. to come up with a development plan for a waste-to-energy facility at the George Town Landfill site. The consultants concluded there was not enough available land at the site to accommodate a waste-to-energy plant, a new lined landfill for non-burnable waste and waste reduction and mining facilities. GBB estimated that mining the waste would take about 20 years to complete. 

The company also reported that building a waste-to-energy facility at Mount Trashmore would cost $100 million, along with annual funding of $18 million to $23 million, while producing $6.5 million worth of electricity per year.  

A earlier report by Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, Inc. in 2000 analysed alternative systems of waste management based on the assumption that the dump would reach capacity in 2002 and be closed. That report eliminated shipping waste off-island as an alternative, because of objections from the US Department of Agriculture. It also considered composting, waste to energy, landfill and combinations of these and concluded that, irrespective of what waste reduction technologies were adopted, a landfill at an enginerred facility would be required in a new and relatively remote location.  

 

Options  

Waste-to-energy has been a buzz phrase for years in Cayman. The idea is to burn or break down the garbage and convert it into energy, thus reducing the Islands’ dependence on diesel to provide electricity. There are a variety of options available for converting waste into energy. 

Gasification produces combustible gas, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels, which can be burned to make energy. Thermal polymerisation produces synthetic crude oil, while pyrolysis produces combustible tar, bio-oil and chars. Plasma arc gasification does not require burning rubbish, but uses extremely high heat to break it down into char or vitrified slag, that can be used for road fill and blocks, and synthesis gas, known as syngas, which can be used for generating electricity. 

Materials for burning could be mined out of the existing landfill over several years and new garbage could be sorted and combustible material burned.  

Dart Realty last year met with Waste Management, the company that owns Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., which won an initial waste management tender bid, to discuss Dart’s proposals. The company approved of the plan to have a dump on a different site than the existing one. 

Waste Management acknowledged that the limited pace at the George Town site could be used as a waste-to-energy facility, but cautioned, “such facilities generate residue requiring disposal, and not all wastes can be processed through a waste-to-energy facility. Therefore, either the George Town site would need to be expanded or a new site developed to accept the waste-to-energy bypass and residue.” 

The company, in a letter to Dart, said it “would not recommend mining and subsequently processing previously landfilled waste in order to gain future capacity” at the George Town site. 

The operation plan for the proposed site at Bodden Town, based on the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment, involves a “mass burn” system approach, which uses all refuse, without prior treatment or sorting. 

This hill of garbage has been subject to several studies and reports over the years as successive governments grapple to deal with the issue. 

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