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The Mobro 4000 was a barge owned by MOBRO Marine, Inc. made infamous in 1987 for hauling the same load of trash along the east coast of North America from New York City 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 continued 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. Eventually, in October, the trash was incinerated in Brooklyn and the resulting ash was buried in a landfill in Islip, where it originated.
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! (season 2, episode 5) in which they 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.
In popular culture
A commemorative T-shirt was produced with the wording "L.I. Garbage Barge - World Tour '87" surrounding a cartoon image of the scow.
A children's book about the incident, Here Comes the Garbage Barge, by Jonah Winter, was published in 2010.
In Tully, character Marlo compares her prepartum body to the Mobro 4000.
In Don Dellilo's Underworld, protagonist Nick Shay and his coworkers at his Waste Management Company make frequent allusions to the Mobro 4000.
In season three of the TV series Wiseguy (1989), there is an episode titled Battle Of The Barge where a waste disposal company has a similar problem with being unable to unload a garbage barge.
- "Gar-barge docks on Monday". PR Newswire. 1987-08-21. Retrieved 2010-08-05.[permanent dead link]
- McFadden, Robert D. (May 15, 1987). "Garbage Barge Returns in Search of a Dump". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
- Gutis, Philip S. (July 11, 1987). "Trash Barge To End Trip In Brooklyn". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
- "Voyage of the Mobro 4000". Retro Report. The New York Times. May 6, 2013. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
- Katz, Jane (First Quarter 2002). "What a Waste". Regional Review. Boston: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
- Dooley, Emily (March 22, 2017). "Long Island's infamous garbage barge of 1987 still influences laws". Newsday. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
- Sicorsky, Dan (November 23, 2015). "The Newest Migrant of the Seas". Washington University Political Review. Retrieved March 22, 2018.