Landfill development projects can be excellent ways to turn solid waste disposal sites into spaces that serve a whole new purpose — the site of a new building or green space, for example.

But landfill development is a much trickier process than it might seem, and many of the challenges inherent in these projects stem from the waste itself. As Green Building Advisor points out:

  • solid waste creates unstable foundations for larger developments,
  • and leachate can ruin the soil or groundwater around a site if it isn’t properly contained.

Still, these are engineering problems, not deal-breakers. More than anything, landfill developers and community stakeholders simply need patience with these projects. “I always tell my clients they need to anticipate a very lengthy timeframe for getting the approvals needed,” Anna Amarandos, an attorney at Rutan & Tucker in California who specializes in environmental law, tells ConstructionDIVE.

There are scores of examples all around the United States of landfills that have been recycled and given new life. Here are five examples of what repurposed landfills have become in their new lives.

Solar Parks

What better way to repurpose an old waste site than to turn it into a renewable energy power station by covering it in solar arrays? Several cities in the United States are exploring this option right now.

In Portland, Maine, the city council passed a unanimous resolution in September to build one of the larger municipal solar arrays in the state on top of its old Ocean Avenue landfill, Dennis Hoey at the Portland Press Herald reports.

According to Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, the project would reduce the city’s electricity dependence on fossil fuel by 25 percent over the next decade, and it wouldn’t cost the city much money at all, only about $150,000 over the project’s first six years.

Bangor City Council Member Sean Faircloth says the 660 kilowatt array will generate enough electricity to power Portland’s city hall.

Down in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city council approved a lease in November that would rent 22 acres of long-unused landfill space to a solar company, Bruce Henderson at The Charlotte Observer reports.

“The company that leased part of the Statesville Road landfill, Momentum Solar LLC, will spend a year on further study of the site’s suitability for solar energy,” Henderson writes. “Permitting and other details could add years more to it development, but Momentum believes the site could support a 2- or 3- megawatt system. That output would be enough to supply 360 to 540 homes for a year.”

Golf Courses

Developers have long recognized that the vast, rolling landscapes they can build on top of old landfill sites are perfect for golf courses. Golf Vacation Insider has a piece on various sites that were reclaimed and repurposed as golf courses, including the Park Ridge golf course in Lake Worth, Florida.

“Thinking about the Palm Beach area conjures visions of blue ocean water, palm trees and amazing wealth,” the piece reads. “So it’s strange that one of the area’s best public golf courses is a ‘brownfields’ (former landfill) course.”

A few other such brownfields courses include

Park Spaces

Green spaces don’t need to be groomed for golfers, exclusively. Many excellent parks have been built on top of old landfills, too, providing recreational options to city residents all around the country.

Steve Scauzillo at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in October to accept a report that included a plan to build a park on top of the Puente Hills Landfill in East LA. That plan calls for the construction of “trails and other amenities such as a giant slide, a gondola ride taking visitors to the top and back, an amphitheater, a zip line, stair climbs and a bicycle skills course,” Scauzillo writes.

And up in the Bay Area, the city of Berkeley has long enjoyed its Cesar Chavez waterfront park, built in 1991 on top of a peninsular landfill that jutted out into the bay. Now, it’s a place where residents can take in some pretty breathtaking views, and it’s also the site of an annual kite festival, as featured in Atlas Obscura.

Retail Centers

At sites where the ground can be stabilized sufficiently to support large construction works, some developers have found old landfills can become excellent commercial areas.

In Carson, California, for example, city authorities had marked a former landfill site as a place that could support an NFL-sized football stadium, if the Raiders or Chargers were to relocate to the LA area.

When the NFL passed, Sandy Mazza at the Daily Breeze reports, the city council voted to begin negotiations for turning part of the 157-acre site into an upscale outlet mall.

“[Macerich Real Estate Co., the developer] wants to erect a 500,000-square-foot outlet center with 150 high-end stores that would take up a fourth of the site,” Mazza says. “Macerich promised to front the city $1 million to cover fees for preparing the documents to pass over control of the land, and $250,000 of that is slated to go into the city’s community nonprofit fund.”

She also reports that the city estimates the site would generate $4 million annually from sales taxes.

Wildlife Conservation Sites

Dora Chi, writing for the National Audubon Society, has an excellent piece on the Rio Salado Restoration Habitat in Phoenix, a 600-acre former landfill, now protected land, that is once again providing a home to native burrowing owls, whose communities were uprooted as Phoenix grew rapidly in the 20th Century.

Today, the city is encouraging all citizens to build makeshift burrows for these owls, and to note any sightings on a specially designed smartphone app so local scientists can track the species’ repopulation.

These owls aren’t the only species returning to their native habitats thanks to the restoration project. Officials also report that monarch butterfly populations have been growing year-after-year since 2011, taking refuge in the cottonwood and willow trees when Phoenix’s summer heat reaches triple digits.
images by: David Ragusa, Viktor Kiryanov, Gerry Roarty