Tel Aviv's Hiriya "trash mountain" transformed into Israel's "Central Park"

ariel sharon park tel aviv israel
© Chris Tackett

For most of the 20th century, Tel Aviv, Israel's garbage went to a massive open landfill that eventually contained more than 25 million tons of waste and became known as Hiriya Mountain or "sh!t mountain" as locals call it. The sight and smell was horrible, it leached toxic runoff into two streams that ran adjacent to the pile causing damage to the ecosystem and thousands of birds attracted to the garbage created safety hazards to planes flying to nearby airports.

Now Israel is in the midst of the long process to transform this man-made environmental disaster into a national treasure, known as Ariel Sharon Park. The project will include more than 2,000 acres of land surrounding the mountain for ponds, recreation areas, bike and walking trails, wildlife areas, etc, making it the largest park in Israel and one of the largest urban parks in the world.

This promo video shows a digitally-produced illustration of what the park may eventually look like:

In 1998, after the government officially closed the landfill, the first challenge was to contain the waste. The slopes and walls of the mountain were stabilized and reinforced using salvaged concrete debris from construction projects. Then the landfill was capped and covered, which allows Ayalon Biogas to collect methane produced by the still rotting garbage, which is used to power a textile factory.

In 2004, there was a contest to design a way to rehabilitate the area and it was important that the designs not try to flatten the mountain or erase it from existence. Instead, the mountain became a center point, which allow the history of the landfill to educate Israeli's and visitors from around the world that people can learn from our mistakes and change course. Designed by renowned landscape architect Peter Latz, the west tip of the mountain features a beautiful pergola and scenic vista. This will be a key piece of the park and provide visitors the highest vantage point of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea.

When I visited last week during a tour courtesy of Kinetis , I saw a lot of construction underway. Some areas were beautifully landscaped and miles of bike and walking trails already cut through the park.

Hiriya Waste and Recycling Center
Maintaining a piece of the history of the area, there is now a waste processing and biofuel facility just outside the future park. Arrow Bio, a part of the Arrow Ecology company, takes approximately 3,000 tons of household waste or about 1000 truckloads per day and manages to reuse or recycle 80 percent of this waste.

The trash mountain is in the background, which gives a sense of its immense scale.

After the trucks arrive, they are weighed to track how much trash each neighborhood is producing and pay accordingly. Then the trash goes through a sorting process to separate organic from inorganic waste and sort recyclables.

Notice how much of the waste is plastic.

After sorting, the organic waste from Tel Aviv's trash is pumped to these biogas digesters where micro-bacteria break down the waste and produce gas, which is used to power Arrow's entire facility. They produce more energy than they need, so the surplus is sold back to Tel Aviv and returned to the energy grid.

The project still has a long way to go, but because it is being done in stages, visitors can already begin using the park if they schedule tours. It may be five or ten years before the complete vision of the park is realized, but the project is already an inspiring example of urban renewal and land rehabilitation and conservation.

Learn more at the website for the Ariel Sharon Park.

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