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The Mobro 4000 was a barge made infamous in 1987 for hauling the same load of trash along the east coast of North America from New York to Belize and back until a way was found to dispose of the garbage. During this journey, local press often referred to the Mobro 4000 as the Gar-barge.
Chartered by entrepreneur Lowell Harrelson and Long Island mob boss Salvatore Avellino, it set sail on March 22 from Islip, New York, escorted by the tugboat Break of Dawn and carrying 3,168 tons of trash headed for a pilot program in Morehead City, North Carolina, to be turned into methane. The barge was docked at Morehead City, until a WRAL-TV news crew, acting on a tip, flew by helicopter to the coast to investigate. Action News 5 Reporter Susan Brozek broke the story on the 6 p.m. news on April 1, 1987, and North Carolina officials began their own investigation, which resulted in an order for the Mobro to move on.
The barge then proceeded along the coast looking for another place to offload and continuing to meet stiff resistance. The Mexican Navy denied it entrance to their waters. It made it as far south as Belize, again being rejected, before returning to New York. Upon arrival it was met with a temporary restraining order and a heated legal battle preventing it from docking. In October, the trash was finally incinerated in Brooklyn and the resulting ash was buried where it originated, in Islip.
At the time, the Mobro 4000 incident was widely cited by environmentalists and the media as emblematic of the solid-waste disposal crisis in the United States due to a shortage of landfill space: almost 3,000 municipal landfills had closed between 1982 and 1987, It triggered much national public discussion about waste disposal, and may have been a factor in increased recycling rates in the late 1980s and after. It was this that caused it to be included in an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (series 2 episode 5) in which they attempt to debunk many recycling myths.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Mobro 4000 incident was caused by a combination of poor decision making by local Islip public officials and short-term difficulties triggered by changing environmental regulations.
- Brower, Michael, and Warren Leon. 1999. The consumer's guide to effective environmental choices: practical advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80281-X.
- Katz, Jane. 2002. What a waste Regional Review 1. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
New York Times (2013/05/06) Voyage of the Mobro 4000: The Barge to No Where