Six trucks carry the tires to the conveyor belt, which lifts them high above an industrial hopper, dropping them into a shredder that reduces each one to two-inch rubber chips in five seconds.

Despite an astonishing capacity to process between seven and eight tons of steel-belted radials – and others – each hour, Island Recycling and its Guernsey Recycling Group partner are likely to need nearly a year to process the half-million tires collected at the George Town landfill during more than a decade.

The shredding started on March 21, marked by Premier Alden McLaughlin donning work gloves and heaving the first tires onto the conveyor and into the maw of the high-powered machine, imported from Missouri.

The shredder’s discharge is dubbed “tire-derived aggregate,” destined for local use as an all-purpose fill for construction, drainage works, road-building, erosion control, landfill cover, “all kinds of possibilities,” says Mark Rowlands, assistant director for solid waste at the Department of Environmental Health.

Already, he said, home builder Davenport Development and planners at Frank Sound’s mixed-use residential-recreation Ironwood community have agreed to take “TDA” for their projects, and names government’s National Roads Authority as a prime candidate for the material.

Rowlands is enthusiastic, not just about the apparently endless – and practical – uses of TDA nor the aesthetics of clearing years-old environmental blight, but also, chiefly, about the economics it represents: “Every material has embedded energy,” he says, calling it “the key to the whole developmental life-cycle.”

TDA simply redirects and repurposes the energy embedded in half-a-million vehicle tires, he says. Instead of burning the scrap and wasting its vast embedded energy in thick coils of toxic, oily smoke, the shredder leaves it intact, recycling it into alternate uses.

McLaughlin spoke to the economic value of the effort: “I am very pleased that we have begun work today on shredding these tires and that the waste can be used for construction projects on-island. This is a major moment as we consolidate our commitment to resolving the landfill issue that has challenged many different administrations in the past.”

Other issues at the landfill

Tires, however, are not, of themselves the most significant problem at the landfill, which receives between 60,000 and 80,000 tons of solid waste every year. In the 12 months between March 2014 and April 2015 alone, the landfill gained 75,000 tons of refuse.

A September 2016 report by London-based engineering and project management consultants Amec Foster Wheeler – and partner KPMG – said if nothing were done, the annual intake of solid waste at the landfill would rise to between 100,000 and 250,000 tons during the next 50 years.

Rowlands, however, is doing something about it under the unwieldy acronym of “ISWMS,” (pronounced “IZ-wims”), the Integrated Solid Waste Management Scheme.

“We are shooting for the end of April to identify the preferred candidate to work out a waste-to-energy compost system and processing of recyclables,” he says.

The Amec-KPMG Sept. 19 Outline Business Case recommended a public-private partnership to execute ISWMS, citing governmental “scarcity of funding, lack of budgetary commitments or lack of expertise.”

Rowlands says government has “two strong bidders” to manage the project, but declines to name them.

Projecting a $10 million capital investment, however, Rowlands says the winner could take another year to launch the plan, estimated to take 25 years and operating costs of $538 million.

“We’ll work out a schedule of implementation once the contract starts,” he says.

Underlining the slow – if steady – pace of remediation, the business case calls for a waste-to-energy facility with a 53,000-ton capacity, operational only in 2019/2020; a facility to recover and bale recyclable materials, with an 11,400-ton capacity, operational in 2019/2020, (DEH already operates a small materials recovery facility at the landfill); a 3,600-ton waste-transfer station from Cayman Brac, also ready in 2019/2020; a 300-ton waste-transfer station from Little Cayman, also operational in 2019/2020; and, according to one government press release, “the potential introduction of curbside dry recyclable collections with a materials recovery facility post-2020.”

The report also envisions public recycling depots with a 1,300-ton capacity. Last June, DEH took over extant stations at seven supermarkets after local reprocessing company Junk – owned by former MLA and Minister of education Roslton Anglin – said it could not afford to continue.

Since launching the effort, DEH reports growing contributions at the stations, recording deposits last year of 192.6 tons of solid waste. For the second half of the year, DEH registered 20.34 tons of plastic, 42.74 tons of mixed paper, 19.78 tons of cans and 109.77 tons of glass and ceramics.

Through mid-February 2017 alone, DEH has collected 9.5 tons of plastic, 13.79 tons of mixed paper, 2.72 tons of cans and 28.3 tons of glass and ceramics.

Waste-to-energy efforts

Estimates are that ISWMS composting, expanded recycling and innovative waste-to-energy facilities could reduce landfill waste from 60,000 tons each year to approximately 10,000 tons, while waste-to-energy operations could generate up to 540 kilowatt hours of energy per ton.

Current recycling efforts, however, are preliminary to the larger ISWMS project, which anticipates island-wide curbside recycling stations. At present, the immediate goal is to minimize additions to the George Town Landfill. DEH has gained a modest boost from private industry.

For example, according to Gene Thompson, director of Health City Cayman Islands, waste-reduction initiatives have diverted 108,000 pounds of HCCI waste from the landfill, 68 percent of the facility’s output. Of that total, 46,635 pounds were recycled, and HCCI treated its own medical waste on-site in East End.

Additionally, through careful building management and diversification of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, HCCI saved nearly 4.3 million kilowatt hours, translating to nearly 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 7.1 million pounds of carbon.

Water conservation and re-use for irrigation, cleaning and other non-potable activities has saved 7.2 million gallons and diverted 4.5 million gallons of effluent, he says.

Camana Bay, for its part, collects 200 pounds of aluminum daily at its own recycling stations, and gathers cardboard from its tenants, shipping it off-island through Foster’s Food Fair.

Dart Realty also collects glass and ceramics, feeding nearly 2,000 pounds per day (2 cubic yards) to its crusher – the only one in Cayman. DEH pulverizes all its glass at Camana Bay, which uses it “for a variety of purposes, especially construction. It has been incorporated into pavers, the road surface on new roundabouts and into decorative and functional items such as plant pots,” according to a statement.

At the same time, Camana Bay’s facilities team crushes fluorescent bulbs “in negative air in order to prevent mercury exposure to staff. The resulting crushed glass, phosphor, mercury and aluminum is all recyclable by specialist companies in the United States,” says the statement.

Dart’s Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, which opened in November, uses 7,500 LED bulbs and has used the material from the older crushed bulbs to adorn the walking and bicycle paths that wind through the hotel property.

National energy policy

Camana Bay’s enthusiasm for LED lighting also contributes to government’s other ambitious “green” initiative, an effort to create a long-term national energy policy.

A consultation document published in February seeks a path through 2037 “to reduce reliance on high-cost, imported fossil fuels,” which pose “a risk to the competitiveness of the Caymanian economy and the standard of living of residents and therefore an inhibitor to socioeconomic development.”

It follows a draft 2013 NEP and the 2016 creation of an NEP Review Committee. According to its introduction, the February document “sets the stage for the achievement of the territory’s energy goals and takes into account the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby lowering the carbon footprint of the Cayman Islands.”

The plan “focuses on exploiting renewable energy, promotes energy efficiency and conservation measures and supports energy security by reducing the reliance on imported, fossil-based fuels.”

The 30-page document examines “lowering the carbon footprint of the Cayman Islands,” seeking to generate 70 percent of local electricity through renewable sources by 2037, and to limit 2020 greenhouse gas emissions to 2014 levels, reducing them 10 percent by 2025 and another 20 percent by 2037.

“More than 99 percent of energy demand in the Cayman Islands is met by oil products, largely diesel and gasoline,” the report begins. The Caribbean Utilities Company imports approximately 31 million gallons of sulfurous diesel fuel each year to generate commercial and residential electricity.

Authors divide the study into four sections: two pages reviewing energy use and policymaking; nine pages explaining four energy-efficiency goals; 14 pages providing strategic details for seven energy sectors – including transport, land use and buildings, water, climate change and the environment – and two pages describing implementation and monitoring. Two appendices complete the document.

Strategies include a broad range of public-education programs through schools, legislation and government-funded renewable-energy projects, including technological innovation.

Government will require local utilities to purchase renewable energy from third-party providers; regulators will help develop financing mechanisms to create “green financial incentives” for household-owned generating systems; new tariff structures will encourage energy efficiency; wind energy will be boosted by reviewing airport exclusion zones and restrictions created by East End’s Doppler Radar system; and regular reviews will weigh use of both liquefied and compressed natural gas.

The document calls for increased use of electric and hybrid vehicles, and commits government to reducing its own 1,100-vehicle fleet between 7 percent and 10 percent in the first five years of the policy.

It also commits to better and expanded public transport, using electric and hybrid vehicles, while developing a comprehensive network of bicycle lanes.

Building codes will set standards for ready incorporation and retrofitting of renewable energy systems into buildings, and demanding minimal standards for lighting, insulation, and cooling and ventilation equipment.

Among other ideas are water conservation and recycling; prudent disposal of waste oil; improved pedestrian facilities; traffic management and employee telecommuting; and a review of the 40-acre limit on Planned Area Developments, encouraging construction of commercial centers in each district, decongesting roads and central George Town.

James Whittaker, founder of solar designer and system installer Greentech, and chairman of the nonprofit Cayman Renewable Energy Association, said the 70 percent renewable-generation goal was a minimum target, amenable to more aggressive action.

A CREA implementation committee will consider more ambitious targets, he said, and quicker achievement of the survey’s 2037 peak is next, but would “keep the NEP on track” in the meantime.

Addressing the report and its admonitions about economic growth, Whittaker observed that “Ernst and Young and the Caribbean Development Bank suggest there are tens of millions of dollars to be spent in the next decade,” creating viable renewable-energy systems.

“If Cayman can set itself up as a regional hub,” he says, “we can grow this industry, become a pillar of the economy – and that means the money stays here and the intellectual property stays here,” rather than merely providing local labor and advice to projects elsewhere, then returning home to wait for the next telephone call.

Instead, he says, Cayman could create its own institutions, its own expertise, its own cadre of professionally accomplished people, “and we can build solar farms, grow our own resources and grow our competence.”