Hearing the story of Fresh Kills Landfill can be disheartening, but it ends on a positive note. Opened in 1947, the garbage dump on Staten Island grew so large over the second half of the 21st century that it became the largest man-made structure in the world, rising eighty two feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. However hope for the future remains at Fresh Kills, where over the next thirty years, the dump will be remade into one of New York’s largest parks.
When Fresh Kills was opened, it was labeled as a temporary landfill, yet at its peak, 13,000 tons of garbage was added daily. At that rate, the landfill grew exponentially until it was twelve square miles of household waste. During the 1960s, it was so large that workers navigating the dump had to create new infrastructure to continue getting rid of waste.
By the 1960s, the landfill had become a nightmare, filled with rank odors, feral animals and a rat population that threatened to take over the island. Cleverly, birds were brought in to take care of the rats, and the landfill was deemed a wild bird sanctuary.
Although dumping slowed near the end of the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks brought a new need for the landfill, and the majority of wreckage from the Twin Towers was brought to Fresh Kills. During that time, forensics investigators regularly poured through the debris looking for clues and remains.
In 2009, the “temporary” landfill that had become permanent entered its newest phase of land reclamation. Despite being 40 years later than planned, a design for a Fresh Kills park was put into motion, and by 2040 it will be finished. The plans would have the size of the park at 2.7 times larger than Central Park, and feature mountain biking, horseback riding and wilderness areas. Not too shabby for a garbage heap.