Mobro 4000

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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".[1]

Chartered by entrepreneur Lowell Harrelson and Long Island mob boss Salvatore Avellino, it set sail on March 22 from Islip, New York,[2] 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.[2] 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.[3][4]


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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

A commemorative T-shirt was produced with the wording "L.I. Garbage Barge - World Tour '87" surrounding a cartoon image of the scow.[6]

The backstory of the garbage ball in episode 1x08 of Futurama, "A Big Piece of Garbage", draws directly from this event.[7]

Singer Sally Timms included a song about the incident, "Junk Barge", written by Dave Trumfio, in her 1995 album To the Land of Milk and Honey.

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.

The movie Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) opens with Andie MacDowell's character in the middle of a psychotherapeutic session, mentioning the Mobro 4000 incident as a source of her anxiety.


  1. ^ "Gar-barge docks on Monday". PR Newswire. 1987-08-21. Retrieved 2010-08-05. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b McFadden, Robert D. (May 15, 1987). "Garbage Barge Returns in Search of a Dump". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved March 22, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Gutis, Philip S. (July 11, 1987). "Trash Barge To End Trip In Brooklyn". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved March 22, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Voyage of the Mobro 4000". Retro Report. The New York Times. May 6, 2013. Retrieved March 22, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Katz, Jane (First Quarter 2002). "What a Waste". Regional Review. Boston: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Retrieved 2010-08-05. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b Dooley, Emily (March 22, 2017). "Long Island's infamous garbage barge of 1987 still influences laws". Newsday. Retrieved March 22, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Sicorsky, Dan (November 23, 2015). "The Newest Migrant of the Seas". Washington University Political Review. Retrieved March 22, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • 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.