Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. The first three steps in the waste management triangle sound simple, but there are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to recycling in the Cayman Islands. Here are seven of them:
MYTH #1: Compostable plastic can be recycled
Compostable products may seem like a green alternative, but be warned: most require composting in an industrial facility which we do not have in the Cayman Islands. Nor can corn plastics be recycled, because all food products are considered a contaminant to plastics 1 and 2. Being biodegradable is an advantage only if items are not disposed of properly. However, like all types of plastic, corn-based products can burn cleanly in a waste-to-energy facility.
MYTH #2: Recycling winds up at the landfill anyway
Have you heard the rumour that there’s no point in recycling because all plastic and cardboard ends up in Grand Cayman’s landfill anyway? The Department of Environmental Health team at the George Town recycling depot can confirm otherwise. Plastics 1 and 2, newsprint/cardboard, and aluminium/tin containers are all baled and shipped to Florida for recycling, while glass is crushed and reused right here on island as aggregate for paver stones and construction. Just remember to make sure your cans and jars are free of food debris before dropping them off at the recycling depots. Greasy pizza boxes still have to be trashed!
MYTH #3: There’s money to be made in recycling
With the market for recyclables falling globally, there are very thin profit margins in recovering recyclable materials. In the Cayman Islands, where there are no factories or local demand for recycled materials, everything has to be baled, compacted and shipped, adding to the cost (and carbon footprint) of recycling.
MYTH #4: Polystyrene is unsafe
Polystyrene and styrene are different substances, like salt is different to sodium. Styrene may have some harmful attributes, but polystyrene is a popular material for packaging because it is safe, cost-effective and provides insulation to keep food hot or cold. If properly disposed of, polystyrene is stable in a landfill and has high calorific value in a waste-to-energy facility, where it can be safely burned.
MYTH #5: Paper cups are recyclable
Most takeaway paper cups, like the ones you get your morning coffee in, are made from cardboard lined with a layer of plastic wax. This keeps the liquid warm and prevents the paper cup from collapsing. But don’t chuck that cup in the recycle bin — wax-lined paper cups cannot be recycled. It’s better to bring your own reusable cup for your morning cup of joe.
MYTH #6:Paper bags are better than plastic
Both paper and plastic bags have disadvantages and drawbacks for the environment. Although it’s an advantage if paper bags are discarded into the natural environment because they will decompose, due to their weight, they generate more solid waste and are inefficient for recycling as they require more energy to process. Plastic bags on the other hand are a serious concern if discarded into the natural environment, but are often reused for various purposes such as kitchen garbage catchers. It comes down to proper waste management. A better choice than single-use bags would be to invest in durable reusable bags.
MYTH #7: It’s difficult to find places to take recyclables on Grand Cayman
Recycling bins for glass and ceramic containers, paper and cardboard, aluminium/tin containers and plastics 1 and 2 are available at all supermarkets. Camana Bay also collects glass and aluminium in bins located in the parking lot next to the cinema. Private firms such as Junk can arrange for household or commercial collection of materials for recycling.