Mobro 4000: The Infamous Garbage Barge

Dec 22, 2023 0 comments

Americans generate an enormous amount of trash. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA, the average U.S. resident produces about 4.5 pounds of trash per day (compared to the global average of 1.6 pounds per day), amounting to nearly 300 million tons of trash annually. This makes Americans the largest producer of trash in the world. In order to keep up with the increase in curbside pickup volume, the number of landfills has increased, but they are still not enough to accommodate all the trash the country produces. Consequently, some of the excess waste is shipped to other states and even other nations.

In the spring of 1987 a barge called the Mobro 4000 carrying over 3,000 tons of garbage was bound for Morehead City in North Carolina, where the plan was to convert it into methane. The original plan was to ship it to Louisiana and bury it in a landfill, but Lowell Harrelson, the owner of the barge, had failed to secure the proper agreements requiring the barge to be diverted to Morehead instead. This wasn’t supposed to be a problem. North Carolina had been accepting New York trash in the past, but this time state regulators became nervous.

Also read: Khian Sea: The Wandering Garbage Barge

At the heart of this operation was Salvatore Avellino, a reputed mob boss in the Long Island trash-hauling business. North Carolina officials were aware that organized crime figures sometimes attempted to smuggle hazardous waste within seemingly ordinary trash, leading to concerns that the barge might be transporting toxic materials. The anxiety heightened when a photograph of the barge revealed a bed pan, fueling rumors that hazardous medical waste could be part of the cargo.

A public outcry ensued, amplified through the media, as concerned citizens observed the barge offshore, laden with decaying solid waste. Authorities were alerted, prompting an investigation. Ultimately, the Mobro 4000 was denied entry. As the barge sailed along the coast in search of an alternative offloading location, it encountered staunch resistance at every turn—Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, New Jersey, the Bahamas, Mexico, and Belize all refused to accept it. After wandering at sea for two months, the barge returned to New York, lingering in limbo for an additional three months as officials from Islip and the state negotiated a deal. The resolution involved burning the garbage in Brooklyn, with the resulting ash buried in an Islip Town landfill.

Members of the environmental group Greenpeace display banner saying “Next Time…Try Recycling” aboard Mobro garbage barge on Aug. 4, 1987, in Gravesend Bay.

The Mobro 4000 incident garnered extensive media attention, becoming a symbol of America's prodigious consumption and waste production. The event sparked widespread national discourse on the issue of waste disposal, prompting hundreds of communities to intensify their recycling initiatives. While Long Island has made strides in enhancing its methods for disposing of or recycling trash, the ongoing challenges suggest that further measures may be necessary.

The episode served as a wake-up call, compelling communities across the nation to reevaluate their waste management practices. The magnitude of the Mobro 4000 incident highlighted the pressing need for comprehensive and sustainable waste management practices on a larger scale. Despite localized improvements, the broader context of America's waste dilemma necessitates ongoing efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The legacy of the Mobro 4000 serves as a reminder of the collective responsibility to address the environmental impact of excessive waste generation and underscores the importance of sustained efforts to achieve a more sustainable and responsible approach to waste disposal.

# The Most Watched Load of Garbage in the Memory of Man, Vice
# Long Island’s infamous garbage barge of 1987 still influences laws, Newsday


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