All That Trash

The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff

Illustrated by Meghan McCarthy

About The Book

“The year was 1987 and a ship full of trash was about to become famous…The narrative is immensely readable…A fresh take on a story of old garbage guaranteed to spark conversations and a desire for actions among students. Highly recommended.” —School Library Journal (starred review)

A garbage barge that can’t find a place to welcome it sparks a recycling movement in the United States in this smart and smelly picture book from the author of Earmuffs for Everyone.

Lowell Harrelson wanted to turn trash into methane gas so he rented a barge called Morbo 4000. His plan was to ship the garbage from New York to North Carolina, but as the barge floated down the coast, no state would let him dock because of smelly waste on board! The barge became a mockery and the butt of many jokes in the media. What started as an attempted business venture turned into quite the predicament for Mr. Harrelson.

Mobro 4000 roamed the seas for forty-five days and traveled a distance of 6,000 miles. While awaiting its fate, the trash floated in New York’s harbor, garnering much attention by onlookers. Green Peace activists put up a large banner across the barge that read, “NEXT TIME…TRY RECYCLING.”

Even though the garbage barge was a farce, the unintended consequence inspired America to find a new way to deal with its trash.

About The Author

Photo courtesy of the author

Meghan McCarthy is the award-winning author and illustrator of many books for children, including Earmuffs for Everyone: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs; Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton; Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum; City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male; Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse; and All That Trash. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (February 2018)
  • Length: 48 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481477529
  • Grades: P - 3
  • Ages: 4 - 8

Raves and Reviews

"McCarthy again tackles an unusual subject: a garbage barge that traveled for over 6,000 miles....Backmatter includes recycling project photos and recycling facts....this book will be most useful for teachers to use in environmental projects." - Kirkus

– Kirkus, 12/15/17

"An entertaining true tale of a smelly saga in U.S. history....extensive backmatter, which includes details about the barge, the sensation it became, and the aftermath of the events described in the book, as well as information about America’s history with refuse and recycling. " -- Publisehrs Weekly

– Publishers Weekly, December 4, 2017

"McCarthy (Earmuffs for Everyone!, 2015; The Wildest Race Ever, 2016) has spent her career detailing offradar topics that seem trivial, until you realize they’re not. The story contains elements of adventure (the barge spends five months cruising the Atlantic), absurdity (a business owner in the Bahamas wants to build a resort atop the trash), and regret (a Greenpeace banner reads “Next Time . . . Try Recycling”). McCarthy’s cartoon-style acrylic illustrations convey a myriad of details, particularly concerning the people and equipment involved. " -- Booklist

– Booklist, Jan 11, 2018

The year was 1987 and a ship full of trash was about to become famous. This is the engaging, humorous, and entirely true story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and its world-traveling adventure. When he discovered a New York landfill was almost full, Lowell Harrelson had a revolutionary idea. The owner of a waste management company wanted to take the trash to an alternate location and test a process that could create electricity from garbage. However, word leaked that an entire barge of trash was setting sail for parts unknown and suddenly no one would let him bring the trash ashore. A five month–long saga ensued, taking the debris all the way to Central America and back in search of a final resting place. The narrative is immensely readable and is graced with comical illustrations that feature period correct facial hair and clothing styles. Readers will gain perspective from several points of view, including government officials, news anchors, and even the captain of the tugboat in this excellently sourced and presented tale. An exceptional addition to environment or Earth Day collections, this will have appeal as both an independent read and a mentor text for whole class studies. The supplementary material includes photos from the actual barge, facts about the barge, recycling, garbage, and ocean garbage, as well as ideas for reusing trash. VERDICT A fresh take on a story of old garbage guaranteed to spark conversations and a desire for actions among students. Highly recommended.

– School Library Journal *STARRED*, January 2018

McCarthy sets her historical scene with three iconic 1980s images: a Mustang GT, an Apple “phone book” computer, and big hair, all depicted in McCarthy’s caricature-ish bug-eyed illustrations. She then introduces the situation: in 1987 Lowell Harrelson, a visionary businessman, commissions a barge loaded with 3,186 tons of garbage to take off from New York, head for North Carolina, and turn the garbage into energy, a process shown in a double-page diagram. When the press gets wind of the situation, public outcry at numerous ports of call denies the barge permission to land. As the barge travels from North Carolina to Alabama to Louisiana to Mexico the same refrain—“the garbage was not welcome”—emphasizes the futility of the plan. The contents are finally burned (although McCarthy does not specify where in the text), which reduces the bulk to four hundred tons of ash; but as one person’s trash may become another’s treasure, the episode wakens a national consciousness about reuse and recycling, further explored in an entertaining and informative back-matter discussion. An extensive bibliography is appended.

– Horn Book, May/June 2018

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More books from this author: Meghan McCarthy