In the spring of 1987, the fully loaded Mobro 4000 barge wandered up and down the East Coast of the United States and into the Caribbean looking for somewhere to dump its load of Long Islanders’ garbage. “Its journey had a strange effect on America,” wrote John Tierney in the New York Times almost a decade later. “The citizens of the richest society in the history of the planet suddenly became obsessed with personally handling their own waste.”
Television stations covered the barge’s sad voyage, the result of a deal with North Carolina landfill owners falling through, and newsmagazines rushed to write stories whose message was all the same: we’re drowning in our own garbage (Newsweek’s cover story was called “Buried Alive”).
The story ...