EDITORIAL – Four years of landfill promises are worth less than nothing

“Government did not have in place a process to properly determine the cost to remediate the George Town Landfill …”

– Angela Cullen, Cayman Islands Auditor General’s Office

The foregoing statement sums up the “progress” made by the Progressives government on the country’s solid waste problem.

Four years after campaigning on the pledge of “No dump in Bodden Town” and the promise of having an alternative solution, the Progressives were never able to figure out how much an “on-site” remediation project would cost … much less where the money to execute the project would come from.

According to government’s auditors, the value of the George Town Landfill could be worth less than zero. Similarly, after factoring in the tons of additional garbage and trash that have been heaped atop Mount Trashmore over the past four years, and the millions of dollars spent on reports, studies and ancillary ventures, the Progressives’ progress on the dump could also, in fact, be negative.

The pinnacle of the government’s achievement on the issue may perhaps be the front-page photo op that appeared on the cover of our newspaper on March 22, featuring an outstanding image of Premier Alden McLaughlin hurling an old tire into the shredding machine that has been tasked with dealing with the stockpile of at least half a million of tires on the landfill site.

However, “recycling,” in a generic sense, is more of a slogan than a solution. The costs associated with recycling often outweigh its practicality. Read just a few lines from an exhaustive report by John Tierney in the New York Times Science section:

“Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill …. Cities have been burying garbage for thousands of years, and it’s still the easiest and cheapest solution for trash. The recycling movement is floundering, and its survival depends on continual subsidies, sermons and policing. How can you build a sustainable city with a strategy that can’t even sustain itself?”

Four years ago, perhaps two-dozen protesters, led by political candidates, took part in a rally against the Dart Group’s cash-free proposal to remediate the George Town Landfill, turn the site into a public park, and establish a new solid waste facility between two industrial quarries in a secluded section in far east Bodden Town.

That smattering of opposition, we are sorry to say nurtured by a passive press, captured the imagination of Progressives politicians, who jumped on the “No dump in Bodden Town” bandwagon and, once in power, led the country in broad, sweeping circles that have ended, four years later, just about where it all began.

So here we are, at the commencement of another political campaign season, with another May election on the horizon. The George Town Landfill is still there, unremediated, befouling the island with its appearance and smell, and threatening the population with its toxins.

It is therefore useful, we think, to remind our readers to keep in mind throughout this quadrennial exercise in democracy that any serious proposal, whether it’s from the public or private sector, needs to start with a dollar sign – with specific estimates and realistic sources of funding.

Anything else might as well be on a Christmas wish list. (“Dear Santa, I’ve been very good this year. Can you please bring me a new landfill, cruise berthing facility and high school campus? And, by the way, I’d appreciate the vote of you and your elves!”)

As country music icon Lefty Frizzell famously crooned, “If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time.”

But if the politicians floating the proposals don’t have the money or a credible financing plan, then they’re simply wasting everybody’s time.


  1. Cayman Compass I agree with your Editorial , and I think that the Politicians have always use the dump as a campaign promise , and once elected they use it for a political football and not realizing that the longer they wait the more expensive it is going to cost and the more toxic and harm it would do to the People and the Environment .

    This election I think that if a candidate says a word about the dump , that should give all potential voters a reason not to vote for him or her .

  2. When I first visited Grand Cayman as a tourist in March 1992 one of my lasting memories is having a few beers with a couple from Miami who were in my dive group. We were in a waterfront bar (sadly now long gone) and they commented on the fact that the bar staff were dumping all the trash into one big plastic drum without making any attempt to separate recyclable materials like glass. According to them this had been illegal in Florida for years – if memory serves me correctly they were talking about $10,000 fines for non-compliance.

    15 years later, I’m now living and working out here when the Matrix scrap metal scandal breaks. Among the revelations is the fact that in October 2006 CIG (it was actually addressed to the Minister at the time) were offered a low-cost option that not only cleared the scrap but also established a permanent recycling facility on Grand Cayman. That proposal, which was completely ignored, promised revenue for CIG, offered employment for local people and would have removed the tons of recyclable material that has since been dumped in Mt Trashmore. Quite why it was ignored has never been clear but marl road gossip at the time suggested that it simply failed the, ‘what’s in it for me?’ test and nobody involved could see any way of profiting from it. A few months later Jean-Michel Cousteau came to the R-C. In a press interview he commented on recycling and sustainable energy issues. One of his points was every year the Cayman Islands returned hundreds of empty shipping containers that could be used to transport material for recycling. He was also highly critical of the local attitude towards alternative energy, particularly CUC plans to invest in OTEC rather than cooperating with tried and tested options.

    The problem with this discussion is that we are dealing with a classic case of ‘carrot and stick’. It’s quite clear that the carrot option has now failed and nobody can see any benefits in sorting the mess out so maybe it’s time for the Governor’s Office to get stuck in (HE doesn’t seem slow to interfere in other matters like the Ritch report) and start beating CIG with a big stick.

    Consider this – In 2007 I did a dive trip to Micronesia. On Palau, which is 550 miles East of the Philippines and had a population then of under 20,000, they have a full recycling facility – if they can do it why the heck can’t we?

  3. Threatening= seem likely to produce (in the future) an unpleasant or unwelcome result.
    The Dump is NOT “threatening the population with its toxins”. The residents of the Grand Cayman are being poisoned, some without even knowing it (being naive?). And it is happening NOW, 24 x 7 x 365. Health effects (such as cancer) don’t appear until many years after the first exposure.

    Now about arsenic.
    Cayman Compass, October 2015, we read “The Pan American Health Organization has issued a clean bill of health to the 14.5-acre Powell family farm in Frank Sound, declaring arsenic levels in soil and groundwater within acceptable limits. ”

    My comment to the October 7, 2015 article:
    How exactly one should interpret the 3d paragraph?
    ….. cautioned, however, that “the number of background location samples analyzed was below the number needed for statistical analysis.”
    Did this project have a Sampling and Quality assurance plan (QAP)? Every sampling project must have one. The purpose of the project QAP is to provide confidence in project data results through a system of quality control performance checks with respect to data collection methods, laboratory analysis, data reporting, and appropriate corrective actions based on established performance and data quality criteria.
    What are the credentials of the person(s) who supervised the Quality assurance procedures? I assume there was a QAP, for without it the results of the sampling can’t be valid. Any potential conflict of interest?
    Ground water sampling. Were the samples collected in the periods when there was no rain and in the rainy periods and then compared?

    Can these questions be answered?

    • To be fair, the article does say cash-free – not free. As for remediate, if you consider remediation means removal of the pollution or a complete solution, you are using a very extreme definition. Remediation of pollution usually involves the limitation of further damage and tries to control and limit damage. As I recall the proposal provided for capping the dump, venting the gases, and putting in a lined berm to stop the leaching into the North Sound, and a fully lined new dump. Not a perfect or complete solution, but a million miles better than the status quo, or as the main thrust of the article suggest, any current “plan” for finding a solution other than limiting further additions to the dump. Think you are being more than a little unfair, but by all means point out how the current position is superior to what was proposed 4 years ago.

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