There and Back Again- The Gar-barge Tale

What do you do when you’ve nearly filled your landfills up with garbage?  This was the question the people of Islip, Long Island had to answer in 1987.  The answer came from a businessman named Lowell Harrison, who simply suggested that they transport it somewhere else.

So, the Mobro 4000 barge set off from Islip, Long Island on March 22nd 1987 with 3,168 tons of trash.  It was on its way to a landfill in North Carolina to be burned and turned into methane gas and used for electricity (a common practice now in other countries besides the U.S.).  However, when it reached its destination, a local reporter was on site and quickly picked up the story and it became the focal point of the community.  State environmental officials were sent out to the barge and one supposedly noticed a bedpan within the trash, causing the officials to conclude that New York was sending them medical waste, which couldn’t be disposed of in their state.

From there it headed to Louisiana where the state officials barred it from unloading.  Onward it went to Mexico, Belize, and Key West, Florida.  Being rejected all along the way.  It was a nightly occurrence on the news to find out where the barge had gone that day.  People were fascinated with where it was and where it was going.

Finally, in Florida it was inspected and while trash from hospitals was found, it was not medical waste.  Where did the trash end up from there?  Islip, Long Island.  Where it all started.  After five months and 6000 miles, the trash returned from whence it came.  Islip had expanded its landfill since the barge left and now had room to dispose of the trash.


The journey of the gar-barge brought attention to the growing garbage issue in the United States.  Since then the U.S. has seen exponential growth in recycling each year.  A positive effect indeed.

But how much garbage do we dispose of today?  Well in New York City alone, about seven Mobro barges of trash are collected each day.  That’s over 21,000 tons!!

The idea to burn garbage to produce methane gas was a fairly new one at the time.  Now, it’s a multibillion dollar industry.  An idea ahead of its time in 1987.

Check out the New York Times story on the barge below

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