The Cayman Islands Department of Environmental Health says it is busily catching up on the waste it recycles.
Figures from the last few years show an increasing portion of the recyclable material collected by the department, which operates the local landfill and waste collection, is being processed. For instance, in 2014, 277 tons of recyclable material was collected, according to figures provided by the department. Of that just 100 tons were processed. The remainder was either stockpiled or ended up in the landfill. In 2016, the department recorded that 980 tons of 999 tons collected were processed. Most of that – 832 tons – was from junked cars.
Jim Schubert, senior project manager for the Integrated Solid Waste Management System, said the department is planning to expand its operations in the future, taking in even more material.
When a new collection system was implemented a few years ago – recycling depots at supermarket centers that began with small wheeled baskets and evolved into dumpsters labeled for glass, cardboard, etc. – some material continued to be sidelined. One reason was the department did not have the tools to handle the influx, said Mr. Schubert.
“The paper we were collecting didn’t get processed because we didn’t have balers,” he said.
For months, the paper was stockpiled. But with rains, the material became wet. Mr. Schubert said recyclers, to whom the material is shipped once it is baled, will not take wet paper since they buy by the pound and do not want to pay extra for the added water weight.
“A lot of the paper had to be landfilled,” Mr. Schubert said.
In early 2017, a new baling machine began operation. Collected paper is now being processed, he said, and the machine will be used for other materials that needed baling, including recyclable metal, which also could not be processed.
“All those metals are still in a big pile,” Mr. Schubert said of recently collected material.
Some stuff has been sitting around for years.
“They’ve been storing tires since after Hurricane Ivan,” Mr. Schubert said. “All that stuff was stockpiled.”
Last March, department workers began shredding those tires, about 7,000 tons worth, for use as aggregate for backfill in housing construction, he said. About 5,000 tons have been processed so far.
A bigger change is expected in a couple of years, according to Mr. Schubert. That is when a new waste management facility is expected to be in its first operational stages on a site near the water treatment plant. Eventually, the much-derided landfill, often called Mount Trashmore, will be capped and a smaller, lined landfill will be opened.
A private consortium led by Dart’s construction company Decco has told the government it can reduce the current waste flow going to the landfill by as much as 95 percent. Part of the reduction will come from a cogeneration plant that will burn trash to create electricity, and part will come from composting organic material for local agriculture, but about 40 percent is expected to come from more effective recycling.
Mr. Schubert said those who come to the Cayman Islands from communities where recycling is well established often have a hard time understanding the low level of such activity here.
“For the expats, it’s like, ‘Why aren’t we doing more?’” he said.
Cayman, he said, has unique issues when it comes to recycling. The biggest one is the fact that other than for glass, there are no facilities on the island that recycle reusable materials.
“You can collect it, but then you have to get it off island, and that’s a big challenge,” said Mr. Schubert. “To get a sea container shipped from China to Mexico is about $800. To get it shipped from Mexico to Grand Cayman is $4,000. It costs a small fortune to ship things back and forth.”
There is also the issue of scale. Cayman simply does not produce a lot of recyclable waste. When scrapped cars are subtracted out, only 67 tons of recycled material was collected in 2016. And for plastics, the department is particular – it only takes Nos. 1 and 2 grade plastics, things such as milk jugs and food boxes. Recycling other grades is not economically feasible, Mr. Schubert said.
“We’re targeting things that have value,” he said.
Even then, it’s a squeeze.
“Twelve thousand milk jugs equals one bale,” he said, “and 25-30 bales fill a shipping container. You may, at the end of a year, have enough for a shipping container.”
That may change if more people can be encouraged to drop off their recyclables when they go to get their groceries. That is the reason the depots have been set up at the supermarkets, Mr. Schubert said. When the new facility becomes operational, there are plans to get the word out.
“There will be a rollout and a big push on the education of children,” he said, “[to] let them know what the new system is and teach them the do’s and don’ts and have them teach their parents.”
He’s hopeful the future of trash on Cayman will look better at that point.
“We’re going to get away from having three unlined landfills to a modern sustainable waste system,” he said.