The rise and fall of Fresh Kills, the world’s largest landfill once visible from space

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When it opened its doors in 1948, the Fresh Kills landfill was conceived as a temporary solution, a remedy with an expiration date to alleviate the closure of Rikers Island and accommodate part of the enormous amount of waste generated by New York. However, time passed and, as usual, what started as something temporary ended up consolidating. By the mid-1950s Fresh Kills were already the largest landfill in the world and in the 1980s he came to receive about 29,000 tons of daily garbage. It was so big that she could view from space.

Now, after a checkered history, worthy of the best pages of Ken Follette, Fresh Kills faces a new life, totally different. Although it received the last residential waste barge from New York in 2001, authorities in the Big Apple and Staten Island certified the final closure of the enclosure just a few weeks ago so that it can be “reborn” converted into a gigantic parka green space that will triple Central Park and will become the second largest in the city.

How does the largest landfill on the planet become a one of the great parks of New York, an area of ​​more than 890 hectares? What is the history of Fresh Kills?

A great “ecological nightmare”

The landfill opened three-quarters of a century ago in what was then an area of ​​creeks and marshes on State Island and for decades housed much of New York’s waste. Its approximately 900 hectares became an authentic “ecological nightmare” and “a political hot potato”, as defined by the writer Robert Sullivan in New York Times.

“Imagine Central Park with 20-story-high garbage mounds. Now imagine that multiplied by three. Imagine a mix of household waste excreting noxious methane and millions of gallons of ammonia-rich leachate, the technical term for the juice that flows from the hills of garbage into the waterways.In the late 1970s, a few 28,000 tons of garbage“, remember Sullivanwho calculates that when a new use was proposed, millions and millions of tons of garbage had been thrown away.

Plastic recycling has many problems and we do not know if it will be able to solve them

Aware of the problem posed by the Fresh Kills mounds of debris, the authorities decided to take matters into their own hands in the 1980s. In 1997, two of the four mounds were closed and topped off, and on March 22, 2001, the landfill its last barge loaded with residential waste from New York. jobs to cover started in 2007.

It is estimated that since 1986 the New York City Cleaning Department has spent an enormous amount of resources to put an end to the mega dump and “advance the transformation” that allows it to be converted into a large green area: around $980 million.

Garbage Scows Bring Solid Waste For Use As Landfill To Fresh Kills On Staten Island Just East Of Carteret Nj Nara 548315

Trash barges in the Fresh Kills, in the 1970s.

Despite the closure plans, the landfill was forced to assume an unexpected role in September 2001: to house much of the debris generated by the 9/11 terrorist attack. For months the authorities used it as a stage to analyze about 1.2 million tons waste from the World Trade Center. The analysis and identification work at Fresh Kills lasted until July 2002 and the remains are still clearly identifiable, between two layers of clean soil, in a section with an area of 19.4 hectares.

As the authorities closed the successive sections, they were covered with a layer made from different materials, such as geotextiles and geomembrane. After years of work, the state Department of Environmental Conservation completed at the end of 2021 the construction of the closure of the landfill and the Department of Environmental Conservation gave its placet in May.


Park infographic.

The certification of its final closing arrives months before opening of a recovered part of the old landfill, North Park, and kicks off to achieve a large green environment of around 900 hectares, the second largest in New York, behind Pelham Bay.

not a bad ending for an old mass of garbage.

Pictures | Geosyntec Consultants Y Chester Higgins, Jr. – US National Archives and Records Administration

When it opened its doors in 1948, the Fresh Kills landfill was conceived as a temporary solution, a remedy with…

When it opened its doors in 1948, the Fresh Kills landfill was conceived as a temporary solution, a remedy with…

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