Becca Rose
May 17, 2013 5:00 am

Two years ago, the Mucking Landfill in Essex was one of the largest trash dump sites in all of Europe. Over its 50 years of existence, thousands of tons of trash were dumped onto the ground, creating a trash heap that was almost 100 feet deep and that spread for almost 900 acres. Every year, this landfill site received a million tons of trash to be added to the growing pile.

Today, this gigantic landfill has been turned into the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park. The ground was covered with a thick layer of dirt and natural grass allowed to grow. The goal is to convert all 845 acres into the wildlife restoration area; so far they’ve converted 120. Many endangered bird species can now be found residing in the park. They even have highland cattle. Tours are now given to view the local wildlife that is making its reappearance on this former dumpsite.

To many, this is a very encouraging development. Who doesn’t feel more relieved now that we know landfills can be (eventually) used for good? According to the EPA, the U.S. throws out 250 million tons of trash per year. Most of that ends up in landfills. To put that into perspective, it’s enough to fill up the New Orleans Superdome 1,500 times. Every single day, we dispose of enough garbage to fill approximately 63,000 trash trucks. And you’ve seen a trash truck–those things are big. We have around 13,000 landfills in America, although only around 3,000 of those are considered active (as in, still getting trash dumped into them).

So this means we have around 10,000 landfills sitting around, just baking in the heat and steeping trash into the ground. What if this approach in the UK proves to be really successful? Somehow, I doubt that with the US’s dismal approach to environmental conservationism, we’ll be able to convince our Congressmen to pony up the cash needed to cover our 10,000 defunct landfills with enough soil to make it a safe haven for wildlife and native plants. But what a great idea. We have all this land, it’s just sitting there, and no one can build on it or near it. Perfect for a wildlife preserve, right? But therein lies the rub. Critics of the Essex conversion believe that the toxic gases produced by buried trash will result in poisoned animals and plants, and possibly even mutations. While the trash dumped in the site is not harmful to the level of say, nuclear waste, it is questionable if the land will be safe for the wildlife living above it. The only thing that will prove this idea’s worth is time.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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