The Great Waste State / Third Coast Atlas
Third Coast Atlas: Prelude to a Plan

Rania Ghosn + El Hadi Jazairy, 2017

In 1987, the Mobro 4000 barge, infamously coined by the press as the “gar-barge,” hauled 3,000 tons of trash from New York, down the East Coast to Belize and back, waiting for a means to dispose its cargo. “There are four ways to dispose of garbage,” claimed a contemporary full page ad in The Wall Street Journal, “Burn it. Bury it. Recycle it. Or send it on a Caribbean Cruise.” Ultimately, the trash came full circle and ended up being incinerated in Brooklyn, where its ashes wound up buried where they originated.

The story captivated the nation as the media highlighted the growing “garbage crisis.” Amidst increasing volumes of trash, the incident was emblematic of an emergent and widespread concern that U.S. cities were quickly running out of dumping space. The rhetoric of the debate over garbage has shifted during the twentieth century from being described as a problem of poverty, concentrated in industrial city centers, to that of misappropriated affluence at the planetary scale. Trash is regarded as the symbol of consumer society, to which the response is to remove it from public view to more discreet sites of containment. Once enclosed, odorless, and away, it is imagined as anthropologist Mary Douglas describes, “matter out of place,” transgressing the boundaries of a social order and whose containment promises the purity of what remains beyond its boundaries.