‘The park’s mission is to raise awareness of the environment and of the need to recycle, as well as rehabilitating the mountain and turning it into a message to the young of how not to repeat the mistakes of our generation.’For forty-six years, Israel’s largest landfill site grew bigger and bigger. As the young state matured, so too, rather shamefully, did the Hiriya garbage dump – first inch by inch, then foot by foot.
Opened a safe distance from the outskirts of Tel Aviv when the country had barely celebrated its fourth birthday, the Hiriya measured, by the time it closed in 1998, a staggering 200 feet in height and a mile in length, and loomed not so far from the south-eastern edge of the city. Commuters could smell the stench from nearby highways. Incoming jet planes would be endangered by flocks of scavenging birds. It was, by all accounts, an eyesore and an embarrassment.
But the winds of change are in the air – and the scent, this time, is decisively sweet. A $250 million project to convert the site into a shining example of eco-responsibility received a boost recently with the dedication of Ariel Sharon Park – a recreational area which will cover more than 2000 acres, complete with facilities for biking, tree-lined walking paths, and benches made from recycled materials.
“The park’s mission is to raise awareness of the environment and of the need to recycle, as well as rehabilitating the mountain and turning it into a message to the young of how not to repeat the mistakes of our generation,” said Danny Sternberg, director of Ayalon Park Company, the government body formed to administer the project.
The dedication ceremony brought together Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres together with hundreds of officials and a hefty contingent from the world media at the new Visitors Center named for Sharon, who is still hospitalized after suffering a stroke almost two years ago.
“Arik was the one who decided about the construction of this park. He brought it to the government and said that he is proud that he can nurture a big green ‘lung’, big not just by our standards but by any standards,” Olmert told the crowd.
Envisioned as an environmental beacon not just within Israel but also internationally, the park is realizing its educational mission in a very concrete way – encoding a serious message within the very structure of the new facilities.
Attendees at the dedication ceremony found themselves standing amid benches made from crushed soft drink cans and chairs recycled from old shopping carts and plastic bags.
Nearby, the corner of the site which continues to operate as a transit station is also being transformed into a model of environmental innovation. Before being shipped to disposal sites in the Negev, vats of organic waste are sorted to allow the collection of methane gas generated by the process of decay. The recycled gas, collected from over 60 wells, is then transported to a nearby factory where it provides fuel for electricity generation. In the future, the gas will power the park’s night lighting.
Elsewhere, non-organic waste matter, such as plastic and metal, is prepared for recycling using an innovative water-sorting method. Garden waste is shredded into compost. Waste building materials are crushed into cement, which is then used in the construction of new roads at the park and for structural walls around the landfill mound.
While the project is likely to take 20 years to complete, attendees at the opening ceremony could already see the four yards of top soil spread over the mound’s crown, ready for its rehabilitation into a recreation area complete with lake, parkland, and possibly a small café.
Leaving its smelly past behind, the Hiriya now seems set to grow in a rather more beneficial way – as an icon, longtime Sharon aide Ra’anan Gissin told AP for a new, “greener” Israel.