For Earth Day, I thought I’d share a really neat children’s book that illustrates the importance of the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Twenty-three years ago, in March 1987, the Mobro 4000 gained fame as The Garbage Barge when it took an embarrassing round-trip journey along the East and Gulf Coasts, trying to find a place to off-load its stinky, rotting load of garbage, before it was forced to return to New York. The barge was hauled by a tugboat named The Break of Dawn which left Long Island City in New York and headed to Morehead City, North Carolina, carrying 3,168 tons of garbage.
Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for municipalities in one state to send their garbage elsewhere for burial. There just wasn’t room in some landfills for all the waste, and garbage companies in the north paid landfills in the south to take their trash. But before the Mobro 4000 docked in North Carolina, environmentalists in that state used legal maneuvers to keep it from off-loading the possibly toxic garbage. The Break of Dawn hauled it to New Orleans where it was likewise rejected, then to Mexico, Belize, Texas and Florida, and each place blocked it from docking.
It made headlines around the world, and comedians made fun of it every night on television. The garbage finally went back to New York, where an incinerator in Brooklyn reduced it to ashes– 430 tons of ashes.
Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio collaborated to produce Here Comes the Garbage Barge!, a picture book telling a fictionalized account of the journey. Although the itinerary of the barge and other facts are accurate, author Jonah Winter took a few liberties with the characters, leaving some out and creating others. He explains this, and the story of the Mobro 4000, in an author’s note in the front of the book.
The illustrations by Red Nose Studio are what make this book so cool. Polymer clay was used to create the characters, including “Cap’m” Duffy St. Pierre, the captain of the tugboat, and Gino Stroffolino, the (fictional) shady character who came up with the “brilliant plan” to ship the garbage to North Carolina in the first place, as well as other characters along the way who keep the barge from docking. The faces are hilarious. Poor Cap’m Duffy goes from a captain looking proud of his tugboat to looking defeated and disgusted at the end, his nose clamped shut with a clothespin to keep the stench of the garbage, now rotting under his care for 162 days.
The back side of the book jacket included a photo montage of how the designer at Red Nose Studio created the artwork. This feature was so interesting that the library’s book processor took the jacket off, cut it to fit, and attached it to the inside cover.
I’m not sure what the age group is for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m in my fifties. Kids would probably like it as much as adults. The moral of the story is: Don’t make so much garbage!
Check the WRL catalog for Here Comes the Garbage Barge!