A massive fire at the George Town landfill site on Friday should be the spark that ignites action on an issue that has plagued the Cayman Islands for more than a decade, business leaders and environmental activists have warned.
New Chamber of Commerce president Johann Moxam, who highlighted dealing with the “inglorious Mount Trashmore” as an urgent priority in his opening address on Tuesday, said the dramatic blaze provided a further reminder that action was needed.
He told the Caymanian Compass that potential for fires was only one of the hazards posed by an inadequate, uncovered landfill site in the capital.
“There has been a decade of discussion about solving this unsightly and unsafe dump, situated close to dense residential neighborhoods and prime tourism resorts,” Mr. Moxam said. “It is time to put aside the excuses and the egos, put aside the fears and instead find the focus, the discipline and the courage to fix this problem for all of Cayman.
“Allowing this to continue negatively impacts tourism and health and safety. We will only be able to fix this if we work as a team.”
He urged government members to show the same drive and cooperative spirit that had enabled them to pass the National Conservation Law after more than 10 years of discussion.
Katrina Jurn, of campaign group Sustainable Cayman, said the site was an environmental hazard that had been a “ticking time bomb” for years.
She said the issue of where a new landfill site should be located was secondary to the immediate imperative to clean up the existing location.
“I don’t think the issue is so much about location as about the antiquated system that is being used at the landfill site. The fire is an urgent reminder that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, although it has been a problem for a long time.”
She said Sustainable Cayman was advocating for a “professional waste management strategy that fits in to a long-term infrastructure and development plan for the island and involves recycling and substantially cutting the amount of waste we produce.”
She added, “We don’t have a position on where the site should be – this should be determined by professionals who understand waste management and urban planning and based on what is best for the island in the long term, and not to cater to special interest groups.”
Walling Whittaker, a former director of environmental health for the Cayman Islands, said the most urgent priority should be to remediate the current site where tires, uncovered waste, methane gas and combustible materials have created a hazardous environment.
“I think it is fair to say that the fire is connected to the wider issues at the landfill. There are thousands of waste tires up there right now. Once those things start burning, it is very difficult to get under control,” Mr. Whittaker said.
He added, “The most urgent issue has to be to remediate the landfill, to deal with what is there right now. You have the tires, you have uncovered garbage, you have methane gas that is constantly being created. I am not saying that is what caused this fire but that is an operational issue that can cause a lot of fires.”
He said the norm in a modern waste management facility would be for materials like tires, cardboard and plastics to be recycled and for waste to be covered on a daily basis.
“Mount Trashmore is the biggest environmental issue facing this island and it has to be a priority for us as a country to remedy it.
“Aside from this fire, there are a whole series of issues that need to be dealt with. We need to establish exactly what is there, we need to remediate the gases that are being released and find out what is going into the ground water and possibly into the North Sound as well,” Mr. Whittaker said.
Mr. Moxam said it was time for a national conversation to produce a proper waste management policy that dealt with the numerous issues surrounding the dump. He said the Chamber was ready to do whatever it could to help move the debate forward.
In his speech on Tuesday, he said, “The solution must be practical, it must mandate reduction of waste generated per capita, introduce wide-scale recycling and, importantly, not burden the country with more debt. Solid waste management is another one of those national ‘conversations’ being held without resolution for more than 10 years.
“We urge the current government to work with urgency to develop a national solid waste policy and then with the same focus and fortitude as recently deployed with the National Conservation Law, go about addressing what is surely one of the biggest environmental hazards impacting both the marine and terrestrial environments.”