TCEM and the Government of the TCI have entered into a publi-cprivate partnership to build on national initiatives for environmental and economic sustainability.
It’s hard to start new things right when you’re awash in a leftover mess from the past. Which made the old ridge-top dump in the Blue Hills highlands a symbol of the challenges of rapid modernization on Providenciales.
Two years ago the open-air dump was a toxic disaster waiting to happen – unlined, unsecured, and largely unregulated. Homeless scavengers took up residence. Wild dogs patrolled smoldering piles of garbage amidst the burned-out hulks of cars.
Today that old dump – along with the site on Grand Turk – has been cleaned, capped and stabilized. A new lined landfill – engineered to exacting United States Environmental Protection Agency Subtitle D regulations – is making its way through the regulatory and permitting process. And for the first time in its history, the Turks and Caicos Islands are on their way to operating on a comprehensive sanitation, solid waste and recycling program.
The nation’s government paid Turk and Caicos Environmental Management (TCEM) $3 million to complete Phase One, and the locally staffed startup got to work in April 2012. It finished the job of rehabilitating the old dumps in February 2013.
TCEM has more than 50 years of combined experience in solid waste, including the development of the largest waste-by-rail system in the US. They are also designing, constructing and operating a new solid waste transfer station in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“What you see now is the result of dealing with a problem which had built up over many years, so actually an investment was needed up front to sort out the problem,” His Excellency the Governor Ric Todd said during a Sept. 19 press conference at the Providenciales site.
Phase Two is expected to cost about $2.3 million, with about $1.5 million earmarked for landfill construction and another $400,000 set aside for instituting a nationwide recycling system. The company estimates annual operations will cost about $1.5 million.
TCEM President Tim Hodge, whose family ties to the islands date to 1971, knew about the waste-disposal problems on the islands long before forming the company. “The (state of affairs) was just shocking, and the situation was not uncommon,” Hodge said. “It’s a problem throughout the Caribbean. But we also knew it was a solvable problem…so when we saw (that the government was ready to address it) we were keen to get engaged and try to be part of the solution.”
Moving the nation from open dumps to a modern, lined landfill ends the risk of a storm flushing toxic leachate through the native limestone and out into the nation’s perfect blue waters. But on a routine level, standardizing the nation’s waste stream gives businesses and residents incentives to divert their recyclable materials, reducing long-term costs and generating new benefits for the country.
Approximately 40,000 tons of waste per year are expected to be processed in the islands through the new waste management system.
Take compost, for instance. Most of the Turks and Caicos Islands lacks sufficient topsoil, so the composting component of the TCEM plan is expected to generate a new resource.
Home and commercial pick-up is currently managed by both the government and several private hauling entities on the island of Providenciales. One such company has already built a recycling facility, and their customers are offered the opportunity to separate garbage and recycle items such as glass, cans, cardboard and plastic.
TCEM’s proposed recycling component is based on a low-tech “blue bag” system used from Chicago to small communities around the world. Everything recyclable goes into a separate blue bag, which workers hand-sort at the processing center. There’s an additional labour cost over pre-sorting, but the system works out to a savings, because it doesn’t require specialized trucks and additional infrastructure. It would also allow for anyone, private homes to hotel guests, on any island, to be a part of a national plan to protect the environment.
The makeover includes consolidation of facilities on other islands as well, and placing collection points – supervised containers – at places where locals have traditionally gone to dump their garbage.