Moving Offal Brings Recycling On
May 6, 2013 8:10 AM   Subscribe

The voyage of the MOBRO. "It was 1987. A small town businessman had what seemed like a promising idea, to transport New York trash by barge to a landfill in North Carolina, where it would be converted into methane to heat homes."
posted by Xurando (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
we revisit the story, 25 years later, to discover that little of what we thought we knew was true.

Ah yes, the first draft of history. You go, Old Gray Lady, you go.
posted by chavenet at 8:12 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, growing up in North Carolina, the narrative there was definitely "New Yorkers try to dump their trash on poor southerners" confirming everything we already knew about people who lived north of Richmond.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:18 AM on May 6, 2013

I keep transposing the middle two letters of "MOBRO" and wanting to make a "RECYCLING DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!" joke.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

So, we are told to compost kitchen waste since it produces methane gas, but it looks like landfill gas is a green energy source being tapped. Confused on moral choice here.
posted by stbalbach at 8:34 AM on May 6, 2013

I enjoy when something like this attacks the news media for losing interest. YOU ARE THE NEWS MEDIA MOTHERFUCKER YOU ARE ONE OF THE ONES WHO LOST INTEREST.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:35 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Transporting waste long distances has become routine, with tens of thousands of tons leaving New York City transfer stations every day for landfills all over the East. Some countries in Europe can’t find enough garbage to burn in their energy plants, and officials in Norway are actually contemplating importing garbage all the way from America by — you can’t makes this stuff up — ocean-going ships.

*mind blown*

Only a matter of time before we're starting to power the flux capacitor...
posted by Melismata at 8:35 AM on May 6, 2013

I didn't realize the Futurama episode had some historical basis. Although if I were to guess which was the "most watched load of garbage in the memory of man" I'd say the barge shown in the opening credits of Barney Miller.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:46 AM on May 6, 2013

Surprised the video didn't mention the prevalence of garbage, a lot of it medical waste, washing up on New Jersey beaches at the time. A number of scows were simply motoring out into the ocean and dumping their contents once they thought they had gotten far enough away from the shore.
posted by destro at 9:15 AM on May 6, 2013

I remember this too. The narrative here was "Why do you guys hate us" with an undercurrent of "I wouldn't take it either, it is full of toxic waste, rat kings and the bodies of hundreds of mob hits they are trying to send out of state"

Worth it for providing fodder for DeLillo in Underworld. I believed he considered it a metaphor for American magic and dread.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:20 AM on May 6, 2013

It amazes me that we can't get justification for garbage processing plants here in N. America. A lot of it is NIMBYism, but surely we can get the economics to work.

Recycling is so second nature in Norway; in my old apartment block we had separate bins for paper, household and organic waste and batteries. We had adverts showing us the correct way to fold milk cartons so they could be recycled properly - and EVERYONE did it, no comments about the government nanny state as EVERYONE got the argument that recycling worked economically and environmentally. Where did we go wrong?
posted by arcticseal at 9:24 AM on May 6, 2013

I'm pretty sure we all recycle in New York. I know I do. I got a couple memos from the building management company about recycling which I promptly recycled. After that I recycled everything. In life, as in work, if someone tells you something it is a suggestion, if they print up a memo and hand it to you they aren't fucking around.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:33 AM on May 6, 2013

Arcticseal, in this country conservatives are refusing to buy the new lightbulbs because they hate environmentalists.

In some cities, it's a lot more of a thing (San Francisco was pretty hardcore about it when I lived there), but yeah. A push for garbage processing power plants would be creeping Muslim socialism, I'm sure.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2013

arcticseal, we recycle all that stuff here too. Or at least we put it all in blue bags and the blue recycling truck picks them up, not sure what happens to all my beer bottles after that.
posted by octothorpe at 9:48 AM on May 6, 2013

Minneapolis has a giant garbage incinerator in the middle of downtown that is used to heat commercial buildings and generate a couple of megawatts of electricity. Surprisingly, building a giant ugly smelly building in one of the most prominent locations in the city (right next to the baseball stadium) has not been a popular move. Even environmentalists would prefer that their trash be out of sight and out of mind.
posted by miyabo at 9:53 AM on May 6, 2013

Despite the presence of HI and CA, I used to ignorantly assume that the tops of soda cans were only marked with the regional states here in the northeast that collected recycling deposits. I was surprised to learn that it is usually an exhaustive list of the only states with bottle laws. No wonder there are so many of those stupid can-crushers advertised in catalogs.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:02 AM on May 6, 2013

It amazes me that we can't get justification for garbage processing plants here in N. America.

Uh.... trash-to-energy (or what you call it) is a reality across the land. In many cases existing incinerators have been modified into energy-production facilities.

Recycling is so second nature in Norway; in my old apartment block we had separate bins for paper, household and organic waste and batteries.

Look, obviously things aren't Norway-perfect here, but even in $RANDOMCITY, USA recycling happens. My city just converted from trash pick-up with sorted bins to automatic robot-arm-able wheelie bins, one for mixed recycling, which is then sorted at a facility; cities that use this system experience enormous increases in recycled materials (even if some of it is trash, etc.). The video shows a chart of US recycling utilization just going up and up. I think you're missing something if you think the US is still creating garbage at the same rate as in the 1980s.

That's the real irony of this video -- that with source reduction, probably 60% or more of that barge would have been in the recycling stream instead. (Yes, I know they would still have filled up the barge.) The ultimate journey of the MOBRO, and this is the chosen narrative of the NYT, is that it taught us to recycle.

list of the only states with bottle laws

The major purpose of bottle laws was, and is, to reduce litter. It doesn't actually do much for recycling, which only happens on a broad scale when municipalities start collecting at the curb.
posted by dhartung at 4:39 PM on May 6, 2013

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