One of the most pressing environmental issues for the community is the George Town landfill site.
The 80ft pile of rubbish can be seen from offshore and is visible to thousands of cruise ship tourists every day. It has caused numerous toxic fires, forcing surrounding schools and businesses to close and, as the landfill is not lined, it’s feared it may be contaminating the surrounding water-table. The amount of solid waste that commercial and residential properties produce has almost doubled since 2012 and it is predicted that the landfill will reach capacity by 2021.
The latest plan to tackle Cayman’s ever-growing landfill site, as announced at the end of 2017, is to create a comprehensive Integrated Solid Waste Management System (ISWMS) as a public-private partnership. A private consortium of companies, led by Dart Enterprises, will take over responsibility for the treatment of all waste management in the Cayman Islands for the next 25 years, working alongside the Department of Environmental Health who will continue to collect waste on the Islands. After the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment, the contract for the ISWMS is expected to be signed in early 2020, and construction is likely to begin shortly thereafter. It is unlikely that all of the facilities will be operational by the end of 2021, when the landfill is predicted to reach capacity, as some facilities – like the waste-to-energy plant – are expected to take at least three years to complete. Until then, the landfill will continue to expand laterally after the height capacity has been reached.
Cayman is already benefiting from the environmental awareness and legislation from other countries, as larger producers take responsibility for making their products more sustainable. Yet it remains crucial to slow the increasing flow of rubbish to the landfill. The Government is making efforts to shred used tyres, recycle materials and bale scrap metals so that these objects do not take up valuable space in the landfill, whilst also trying to educate both schools and the general public on the importance of home waste reduction. Nevertheless these changes rely on the participation of Cayman’s population, and people are urged to make the attitude and lifestyle changes required in order to reduce waste, and its environmental impact.
As outlined in the new waste management strategy, when the current landfill site is closed, it will undergo surface water and landfill gas management, and then eventually it will be capped with around five feet of protective layering, and re-vegetated to create a recreational green space. The grounds will continue to be monitored to ensure the site performs within the approved parameters of safety, and landfill gases (such as methane and carbon dioxide) will be collected and transported to the thermo-recycling plant to be used as fuel. Over time, the overall height of the landfill is expected to decrease yearly by around 3%, and the contamination of the surrounding ground and wet-lands will also be reduced. New facilities will then be built which will manage all recyclable and non-recyclable waste for Grand Cayman and also Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. All rubbish will be shipped over to Grand Cayman for processing.
Latest Landfill Fire Updates
(8am 16/03/20) The Cayman Islands Fire Service (CIFS) and Department of Environmental Health (DEH) have successfully capped the top section of the landfill. Many deep pockets of fire have been extinguished and there is a low chance of flare ups. Smoke from the site is minimal, however residents in the area should still exercise caution and keep doors and windows closed.
(9pm 11/03/20) Although the fire has not been fully extinguished, the CIFS and DEH crews continue to see success in tackling a fire at the George Town Landfill. Air quality testing will begin once the fire is out.
(8am 11/03/20) Although the CIFS has made good progress at the landfill site, the situation is still dynamic with varying smoke density. Both lanes of the ETH are open and will remain open as long as it is safe for motorists.
(4pm 10/03/20) The Cayman Islands Fire
Service (CIFS) has made good progress in tackling at fire at the George
Town Landfill and most of the surface fires have been extinguished.
Residents of Lakeside Apartments and Watlers Road have been given
approval to return to their homes. As a precaution, residents should
keep doors and windows closed and are advised to monitor air
conditioning units in case of smoke intake. Esterley Tibbetts Highway
remains open in both directions this evening. George Town Primary School
(GTPS), the Transitional Unit located on the GTPS campus and Cayman
International School will be open tomorrow (11/03/20) for students and
(8am 10/03/20) Motorists are advised to
stay vigilant, keep windows closed and reduce driving speed on the
Esterly Tibbetts Highway between the Camana Bay roundabout and the
Butterfield roundabout. A decision will be made today at 4pm on whether
the smoke has been reduced sufficiently to allow Lakeside and Watler
Road residents to return home.
(6am 10/03/20) Both lanes on the Esterly Tibbetts Highway are open to help the morning commute to work.
(7pm 09/03/20) Both lanes on the Esterly Tibbetts Highway are now open help traffic congestion. Government schools are set to be reopened on Tuesday 10th March. These include Cayman Islands Further Education Centre (CIFEC), Cornerstones, Early Intervention Program at CIFEC, John Gray High School, Little Stars and Stepping Stones. George Town Primary School (GTPS), the Transitional Unit located on the GTPS campus and Cayman International School will remain closed.
(4:45pm 09/03/20) The northbound lanes on the Easterly Tibbetts Highways will temporarily be reopened between 4pm to 6.30pm in order to assist with the flow of traffic during the evening rush hour. Due to the visibility issue, the speed limit in this area will be reduced to 30mph. Motorists are advised to keep windows closed and set the air system to recirculate internal air. The southbound lanes will remain closed.
(1:30pm 09/03/20) Although the Esterley Tibbetts Highway remains partially closed, it is now open from Camana Bay to Cost-U-Less. The Esterley Tibbetts Highway from the Butterfield roundabout to Camana Bay is still closed.
(12pm 09/03/20) The Cayman Islands Fire Service (CIFS) are now able to focus on the main sector of the fire which is located in the middle of the site. The Esterley Tibbetts Highway remains closed which is causing a major gridlock in George Town and West Bay.
See below for a list of businesses and schools that have been closed on 9th March.
The latest fire occurred on Saturday 7th March, 2020 and was thought to have been completely extinguished, however on Sunday 8th March, 2020 the fire was accidentally reignited and fanned by strong winds which caused the fire to grow and spread at an alarming rate.
As a result, the Esterley Tibbetts
Highway from the Butterfield roundabout to Cost U Less and some schools
and businesses will be closed.
List of schools closed on Monday 9th March due to the landfill fire:
- The Cornerstone School
- Transitional Unit at the George Town Primary School
- Stepping Stones
- Little Star’s
- The Early Intervention Program at CIFEC
- St. George’s Pre-School
- John Gray High School
- George Town Primary
- Cayman International School
- Village Montessori
- Triple C School
List of businesses closed on Monday 9th March due to the landfill fire until further notice:
- The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands
- The Wharf Grand Cayman
- The Field of Dreams
- Kirk Market
Residents living in the Lakeside Apartment Complex and in the Watler’s Road neighbourhood are encouraged to evacuate as a precaution against the toxic smoke. Other nearby residents are advised to close doors and windows and monitor air conditioning units for smoke intake.
Motorists travelling from the direction of West Bay to George Town and from George Town to West Bay are being asked to divert to West Bay Road at your earliest convenience during your travels in order to arrive at their destinations. The RCIPS is urging motorists who do not need to travel to and from West Bay are being asked to refrain from doing so until absolutely necessary, in order to alleviate some of the traffic flow hindrances that this road closure will cause.
The Cayman Islands Fire Service (CIFS) and Department of Environmental Health (DEH) and RCIPS have worked throughout the night to contain the fire at the landfill, which was inches away from the Esterley Tibbets highway, and have continued their efforts throughout the morning.
The Fire, Police and DEH are working to achieve a resolution as quickly as possible, however the situation at the site remains dynamic due to the strong winds which are fanning the fire. The landfill will be closed to the public until further notice.
If you are experiencing any problems with irritation, prolonged coughing spells, mental confusion or difficulty breathing due to inhaling smoke, please go to the Accident & Emergency Department at the Cayman Islands Hospital.
New Integrated Solid Waste Management System (ISWMS)The proposed Integrated Solid Waste Management System (ISWMS), which, subject to Government approval, is proposed to be built to the east of the Waste Water Treatment plant, will include a waste-to-energy plant and a recycling centre. The ISWMS will include a new landfill that will be properly lined, and all incinerated waste will be disposed of correctly in the small controlled site.
The goal is to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill for disposal by up to 95%. The electricity generated will be sold to Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC) and it is estimated that the ISWMS will contribute approximately 7.6 megawatts to the local grid. This translates to approximately 8% of the country’s electricity needs.
At the facility’s recycling area there will be bays to collect and bale various recyclables, such as number 1 and 2 plastics. At present there will be no movement to further the amount of plastics that can be recycled in Cayman, as the ISWMS will eventually be used as an alternative way of recycling these products. The facility will also provide composting areas on all three Islands for horticulture/yard waste, and there will be a reuse centre where people can deposit functional but unwanted goods and furniture. Toxic waste will continue to be disposed of off-Island.
There will also be an educational component to the project which will encourage the community to embrace the concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. A significant amount of work needs to be done to educate the public so that current habits are changed and more recycling practices are encouraged across the three Islands.