It’s been over two weeks since Tropical Storm Grace cleared a path across Grand Cayman. Since then, the flood waters have dried up, the roads have been cleared and the electricity has been restored.
The only lingering signs of a disturbance are the countless uprooted trees of every shape, size and type that lay scattered in the yards of thousands of homes across the island.
The Department of Environmental Health has since opened collection depots in each district, where the vegetation can be deposited and processed, before being disposed of in the landfill.
“It’s now day three since we have opened these collection sites, and from dusk till dawn there seems to be a never-ending stream of trucks hauling vegetation to the site,” Michael Haworth, the assistant director of solid waste at DEH, said on Wednesday, 1 Sept.
But it is only when visiting the actual site that it is possible to appreciate the magnitude of the waste vegetation the community is dropping off every day. In the span of 20 minutes, when Cayman Compass staff visited the collection site at the Ed Bush Stadium in West Bay, two roll-on/roll-off trucks were each filled to the brim, and the back of a grab truck was filling up fast, as the truck operator carefully packed in the discarded tree trunks and branches.
The DEH’s vehicle manufacturer in the US estimates on its website that each truck can carry up to 8 tons at a time.
Even with 24 tons of vegetation debris being hauled away, the collection crews were struggling to make a sizable dent in the ever-growing pile, which was constantly being refilled by the steady and continuous stream of loaded pickup trucks.
“This is a part of our hurricane recovery strategy, so we have to be very focussed about how we are doing our clearing process,” said Haworth. “We haven’t hit the peak of the hurricane season, and there are several storms developing. We don’t know what could come our way. So we need to clear away this vegetation in the event that something else does come our way,” he explained.
Haworth said once the debris is taken to the landfill, it will be mulched and a portion will be provided free to farmers and other residents.
Not a ‘Christmas clean-up’
Haworth said, in addition to processing the mounting vegetation debris, his team has been tasked with providing their regular services such as residential and commercial garbage collection, recycling and landfill waste processing.
As a result, his team has neither the resources nor the capacity to process non-vegetative rubbish, he said.
For those who are not able to transport the debris from their homes to the collection sites, Haworth said DEH staff will be deployed to make house calls in each district.
“We are in West Bay this week, we have the trucks going out and collecting from the side of the road. We will be moving on to George Town next week, into Bodden Town, North Side, [and] East End in the month of September.”
Unlike the annual Christmas clean-up, he said, DEH staff will not be prioritising non-vegetation debris. However, the landfill remains open for people to drop that off.
“Don’t put the bulk waste out, just vegetation,” said Haworth. “We will have the bulk waste clean up coming later in the year.”
Debris dumped in Barkers
For decades, Barkers in West Bay has been the scene of continual illegal dumping. Since the passing of Tropical Storm Grace, litterbugs have dumped roof shingles and other household bulk waste there.
“I don’t understand why people do that,” said Haworth. “The effort it takes to load up a truck and take that to an illegal spot on the island to tip it illegally is probably the same amount of effort to take it to the landfill and dump it off responsibly.”
If caught littering, a person can be fined up to $500 or imprisoned for six months. Throughout Barkers, there are several signs warning of the penalties.
However, these have not appeared to stop the dumping.