Tag Archives: Adaptive Reuse

Environmental Stewardship Series: Part 3 of 3

Life Beyond: Old Dumping Grounds are Ripe for Adaptive Reuse

Communities with areas in decline have embraced the concept of adaptive reuse to restore historic buildings and reclaim their decaying or abandoned urban landscape. Such projects involve salvaging as much of the existing building material as possible and repurposing it in new ways to make the most of the “good bones” of existing structures. This is a more cost-effective approach than razing entire blocks and rebuilding from scratch.

Adaptive reuse of land is no different. Areas that have served as solid waste landfills or coal ash ponds are not doomed to spend eternity as eyesores on the landscape. In many cases, adaptive reuse can transform that land into better spaces than it was to begin with.

Nowhere stands a more amazing example of this than in Israel. The Dirt described how the Hiriya landfill, commonly known as the “Mountain of Crap,” received 25 million tons of waste over its 60-year life. Flocks of birds drawn to the garbage were causing problems for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, and toxic runoff leached into nearby water supplies.

Hiriya closed in 1999 and began its transformation into the 2,000-acre Ariel Sharon Park, roughly three times larger than New York’s Central Park. Rainwater is now collected and filtered to irrigate plant life on the sprawling mound.

Nearby waste facilities still in operation process 90% of municipal waste, recovering metal and glass for recycling and producing bio-gas to generate electricity. In addition, methane gas recovered from still-decomposing materials within the mound generates enough electricity to run a nearby textile factory.

A man-made lake and redirected water systems created around the area now serve as buffers against flooding in South Tel Aviv and Holon. Hiriya has become a paradise for outdoors lovers, with walking and bike trails, gardens and wildlife habitats. The project’s completion is planned for 2020. TouristIsrael.com describes the site as an “ecological masterpiece.”

But Israel isn’t the only country to master adaptive land reuse. A similarly impressive example in the U.S. is Freshkills Park on Staten Island. At 2,200 acres, it’s the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. Amenities will include playgrounds, athletic fields, kayak launches, horseback riding trails, and large-scale art installations. It’s a work in progress, opening in phases through 2036.

Like Hiriya, Freshkills also has submerged gas wells collecting methane still being generated by the decomposing waste. It’s piped it to a power company that in turn uses it to power approximately 25,000 homes on Staten Island, generating $12 million for the city annually.

Predating both of these projects by several decades is Tifft Nature Preserve, three miles from downtown Buffalo, New York. In the 1950s and ‘60s, this 264-acre landfill accumulated nearly 2 million cubic feet of solid waste, which is now encased in clay and covered with soil. The site opened in 1972 as a nature refuge with five miles of trails and boardwalks, ponds and woodlands.

Transforming a blighted area into an oasis for people to enjoy is a wonderful outcome, but another adaptive reuse that’s growing in popularity is solar farming. Once a landfill is capped with an impermeable geomembrane, it becomes a suitable surface for solar panels, a renewable source of electricity for communities.

In North Carolina, the 48-acre Hickory Ridge Landfill had a relatively brief useful life from 1993 to 2006, but after it was capped in 2011 and covered with over 7,000 solar panels, it has essentially become an open-air power plant. Because the land wasn’t replanted, rainwater runs off the panels and down the sides of the mound, to be captured, filtered and reused.

In December 2017, the Orlando Utility Company’s Kenneth P. Ksionek Community Solar Farm brought Orlando one step closer to its goal of running on 100% renewable energy by 2050. The utility installed 20,369 of 37,544 solar panels atop concrete slabs on an 80-acre hill that’s filled with coal ash. The remaining panels sit on nearby flat land. The new $15 million solar plant generates enough electricity to power more than 1,400 homes in the area, costing less per kilowatt hour than fossil fuel, creating a win-win for the environment and the community.

These five examples show how foresight and smart adaptive reuse can ensure that no land goes to waste and that its assets can be put to use to maximize its potential for generations to come. Thrillist.com offers 11 more amazing stories of land reclamation.

The time to face the future is now. Environmental Stewardship requires innovation, forethought and a desire to look beyond immediate problems so you can see the better way of life that lies beyond the horizon and strive to achieve it.

Environmental Stewardship Series: Part 2 of 3

Is a landfill an asset?

The number of landfills in the U.S. is decreasing, resulting in dwindling airspace available to hold our waste. If you own a landfill, you must ask, “Is my landfill an asset or a liability?”

Despite recycling and Zero Waste initiatives across the county, the volume of waste generated hasn’t decreased to the point where we see reduced demand on airspace or an offset in the growing costs of proper disposal.

Compounding the problem is that the U.S. recycling industry shifted from domestic to overseas markets when China and other countries were clamoring for our raw materials. But now, those countries have become glutted, so they focus more closely on quality, and they discover that that much of what we sell them is contaminated, so those loads end up becoming unusable solid waste.

Because it’s prohibitively expensive to ship these rejected loads back to the U.S. for disposition, municipal recycling programs are taking a hard look at what they can continue to accept and sell. Unfortunately, the trend is toward less, not more.

This places the burden for solid waste disposition back on U.S. landfills.

Zero Waste initiatives – where, ideally, 100% of waste is put to beneficial reuse in some form – are noble to strive for, but they require significant compromises to life as we know it. How many of us are willing to go that extra mile and give up our trashcans? How long will it take to achieve zero waste?

It’s a problem that doesn’t have generations of time to solve. It’s growing larger and more pressing every day.

Communities that operate landfills can begin contributing to the solution today with a shift in attitude. Instead of considering their solid waste facilities eyesores that must be closed as soon as possible to appease residents whose mantra is, “Not in my backyard!” (the “NIMBY effect”), they should instead consider those landfills assets to be leveraged and maximized.

This keeps the waste local, reduces transportation costs and doesn’t – literally – kick the cans down the road for disposal in other localities.

Just about any landfill is an asset that can be operationally improved or expanded. At the end of its useful life, the land itself can be reclaimed and reused in a number of ways that benefit the entire community.

Until American innovators can step up and revive domestic recycling by inventing new uses for recyclable materials that other countries no longer want, it’s up to communities to fill the gap.

But let’s not stop at simply creating more landfill airspace. Environmental stewardship goes way beyond just protecting the environment. Localities should consider all stakeholders’ concerns and community needs (farm land, wetlands, lack of open space, beneficial use) and add them to the pot. When all options for landfill maximization are on the table to explore, it can result in winning propositions all the stakeholders can “live with.”

In the final post of this series, we’ll tackle how landfills can be adaptive reused.