Ariel Sharon Park, as seen from above. (Photo: State of Israel/Flickr)

Massive landfill transforming into 2,000-acre park

Notorious garbage mound near Tel Aviv will become the centerpiece of an environmental attraction.

What was once a gigantic mound of trash is now becoming a national treasure.

Hiriya Mountain, a massive landfill outside of Tel Aviv, Israel, which grew to contain more than 25 million tons of waste, closed in 1999. Now, a former museum director is working to transform Hiriya into a vast urban park and ecological attraction.

Dr. Martin Weyl, who first planted the idea to overhaul the dump, said the site caused problems for years due to its odor and the abundance of birds that flocked to the garbage and sometimes affected departures and landings at nearby Ben Gurion Airport.

“It always bothered me that this existed. It was an eyesore,” Weyl, now director of the Beracha Foundation, told The Jerusalem Post.

When it's done, the park will be three times the size of New York City's Central Park, according to The Post.

Israel's Ariel Sharon Park An artist's rendering of Ariel Sharon Park. (Photo: Green Prophet/Flickr)

“We tried to turn it from something very negative into a positive icon, and one of the ideas was that we shouldn’t just cover the mountain so that it will become a park and everybody will forget what it was,” Weyl said. “We were able to attract recycling factories with the idea that this will become an ‘educational theme park’ where the children will come and learn how to recycle."

Containing the waste, which had damaged the ecosystem with toxic runoff seeping into two nearby streams, was the first challenge. Salvaged concrete was used to reinforce and stabilize the slopes and walls of the 200-foot-high mound. The landfill was then capped, trapping the methane produced by the rotting garbage and allowing Ayalon Biogas to collect it and use it to power a nearby textile factory.

Hiriya Mountain 2006Hiriya Mountain as it looked in 2006. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Peter Latz, a German architect known his work to reclaim and convert former industrialized landscapes, was chosen to lead what is expected to be a $250 million project to turn the site into one of the world's largest urban parks. The design requirements specified that the mound was to be the focal point of the future Ariel Sharon Park, named for the late prime minister.

The project includes 2,000 acres of land surrounding the mound, which will include a 50,000-seat amphitheater, sports fields, bike and walking paths, ponds and wetlands. In order to protect the park's plants from contaminants left over from the landfill, the entire landscape is being covered by a bio-plastic layer to block methane, which will then be covered by several layers of gravel, and about three feet of dirt.

A variety of landfill rehabilitation techniques and sustainability projects are also showcased in the park. One facility utilizes biological sub-systems to produce biogas that can be converted into electricity, reducing the weight of municipal waste by over 90 percent and recovering glass and metal in the process. Recycling facilities for tires and building materials have been opened, and another facility turns plant pruning into ground cover that can be used instead of grass, reducing demands on water resources. The visitor center is a showcase for recycling – the building itself was once a huge compost shed, and furniture and design details are made from recycled or found objects.

Caroline and Joseph Gruss Observation TerraceCaroline and Joseph Gruss Observation Terrace. (Photo: The State of Israel/Flickr)

The park is being opened in stages, with the entire project expected to be completed by 2020. Though much of the park is still in development, visitors can take in a 360-degree view of Tel Aviv, Central Israel and the Mediterranean Sea from the Caroline and Joseph Gruss Observation Terrace.

The terrace was named in honor of the founders of the Beracha Foundation, the organization that launched the project with an $8 million donation.

Last month, the park featured an exhibition of H.A. Schult's " Trash People,” a collection of hundreds of human-sized figures made from recycled materials, including iron, glass, cans, and computer parts. The exhibition has been traveling around the world for 18 years, visiting landmarks including the Great Wall of China, Moscow's Red Square, the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, and the Arctic.

Watch Weyl's TEDx talk, "The Recycling of a Garbage Mountain," in the video below.

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