We Built This City on Garbage: The Rapid Re(f)use Solution

Until recently, Fresh Kills landfill received most of the waste generated in New York City: some 38,000 tons every single day. Now that the landfill is closed, the city is left with a 2200 acre pile of garbage. In 2001, its tallest point reached higher than the Statue of Liberty. The former landfill is in the process of being turned into a public park following the capping of the garbage with an impermeable cover that, it is hoped, will bury the waste forever. But Terreform has a vastly different idea: rebuild and expand the city from decades of its own waste.

The non-profit green design group has proposed a radical solution to the abundance of waste in New York City: use it to build an entirely new addition to the city. Their Rapid Re(f)use project involves specialized robots which would process the garbage into usable material, almost like the 3D printers in massive scale. Terreform suggests that with the refuse in Fresh Kills alone, seven full-size Manhattans could be built. They indicate that the city could be extended and improved with the materials that already exist right there in the landfill.

In their concept, Terreform acknowledges that different types of materials would be useful for different applications: organic materials could be used for temporary scaffolding, plastics for windows and skylights, and metals for the “bones” of buildings. The automated robot workers assigned to comb through the landfills and turn trash into materials would be able to distinguish which type of material they were handling and use it appropriately.

The group believes that the project could be carried out in as little time as just a few decades. According to the Rapid Re(f)use project page, the robot 3D printers on which the project depends are based on technology that already exists in the waste management industry. Whether or not this idea ever actually comes to fruition (and it looks extremely doubtful that it will), Terreform makes a valid point: one day, our garbage will overwhelm us. Maybe it’s time we look to the more radical solutions to remedy the problem before we all end up on the Axiom for a five-year tour.

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