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This Man's Pulled 1,000 Fridges and 78,000 Tires From America's Rivers

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- 1952 days ago -
Chad Pregracke and his team from Living Lands & Waters have made it their mission to makeover U.S. waterways.

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JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 12:25 pm

This Man’s Pulled 1,000 Fridges and 78,000 Tires From America’s Rivers
Chad Pregracke and his team from Living Lands & Waters have made it their mission to makeover U.S. waterways.
This Man’s Pulled 1,000 Fridges and 78,000 Tires From America’s Rivers

Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands & Water, gets ready for the cleanup of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. (Photo: Douglas Graham/Getty Images)

When we think of the Mississippi River the first things that come to mind are probably barge traffic and Tom Sawyer, Dead Zones and Huck Finn. What we probably don’t think of is the U.S.’s longest river as a source of drinking water. Sure, it is integral in the transportation system that moves farm goods and helps keep Walmart shelves filled. We also know that the mighty river is very good at delivering pesticides, fertilizers and other pollution downriver from big cities and farm fields. But drink the muddy waters of the Mississippi? Fat chance.

Truth is, 18 million people who live along its 2,350 miles depend on the Mississippi for more than recreation and irrigation.

No one understands the relationship between commerce, the environment, and the need to keep the Mississippi River clean for future generations better than Chad Pregracke, who has made the river both his home and his work for more than the past two decades. And he’s only 38-years-old.
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Growing up on the Illinois side of the river, the son of educators and “river enthusiasts,” Pregracke and his brother were born river rats, with easy access to both the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Summer jobs were being a barge hand, a commercial fisherman, or even shell diver (much of the world’s cultured pearls originate from shells taken off the bottom of the Mississippi).

It wasn’t hard for a 17-year-old to see just how badly polluted and trashed the river system was. Why would a teenager decide to tackle a problem his elders felt comfortable ignoring? Rather than ignore it, Chad started badgering local government agencies to do a better job.

“Living and working on the river, I witnessed tons of unsightly and toxic trash along its banks, and decided I had to do something about it,” Pregracke tells TakePart. “I called state officials to try to get funding to help with my river cleanup efforts and for four years, all I heard was ‘Who are you, kid? What garbage? No, we don’t have any money.’ After countless rejections, I was able to convince one sponsor to support me in 1997, and I worked alone for a year.”

In 1998, at 23, he founded Living Lands & Waters, a nonprofit aimed at helping to clean up the Mississippi. Success—and a lot of good press and public recognition—came his way.

Today the organization is well-funded, employs a full-time staff, owns more than a dozen different boats and every year works the banks of the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers. Since its inception, more than 60,000 volunteers have collected over six million pounds of debris.

“It has grown to be the only ‘industrial strength’ river cleanup organization like it in the world. For up to nine months a year, our eight-to-ten-member crew lives aboard a house barge, traveling from town to town hosting river cleanups, workshops, and tree plantings. With the backing of hundreds of supporters and sponsors, we have been able to host over 600 cleanups in 17 states along 18 rivers. Together we have removed millions of pounds of garbage, including 4,000- 55-gallon barrels, 1,000 refrigerators, 78,000 tires—the list goes on and on.”

For three weeks this March LW&W is hosting an Alternative Spring Break program, where hundreds of college students from all over the country will spend their spring breaks in Memphis, helping Chad and his team. Recently, TakePart spoke with Chad about his inspiration and motivation for the new kind of spring break.
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TakePart: How would you define the progress you’ve made over the years?

Chad Pregracke: I would define it by the number of pounds of garbage we have pulled out, the number of people who have helped and the number of cleanups we have held.

The follow-up being, can you see a change...or does the problem continue to grow?

There has been such a noticeable difference in many of the places we work. What is great is that it’s not just myself seeing the difference; it is a lot of people that use the river who also have noticed the difference: recreational boaters, fisherman, tugboat captains, canoeists, etc. These people have noticed the impact and that our efforts have been sustained. This change has allowed us to expand our efforts to new places where there is a greater need.

What inspired the spring break program and what feedback have you gotten?

I am part of the National Geographic Speakers Bureau, and many years ago I went and spoke at a college about 40 miles south of Atlanta and just off the cuff I asked if any of the students wanted to help out, and I told them, “We would be happy to have you. We need all the help we can get.” A month later, these students showed up and it went really well. After that I thought to myself, if it worked for one school, it would probably work for many, and it has grown from there.

Can you imagine this growing to other rivers, other coastlines, similarly pitching to spring breakers?

I certainly can. We have done over 600 cleanups in 18 states along 17 rivers. We have noticed a lot of college students continuing to come out from all over the country. This year we have students from 21 different colleges coming to Memphis to help out over their spring break; which is way more than we have had in past years.

Craig Maxwell (2)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 12:26 pm
We spend too much time polluting this planet.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 1:19 pm
Thats terrible how people dont care where they dump their rubbish. People should be made more responsible for what they do with it .They just dont care i8f It harms fish in rivers, animals and birds


JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 1:47 pm
I agree Craig and Carol.
You cannot currently send a star to Craig because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Carol because you have done so within the last week.

. (0)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 2:49 pm
I wish this story was a lie,but, knowing what we are capable of I have to believe it.

Valentina R (12)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 3:18 pm
This man is a freaking hero.

Christeen A (371)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 3:23 pm
This man is a hero. Thank you for sharing. Please keep up the good work. Kudos are coming your way.

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 3:38 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Christeen because you have done so within the last week.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 5:20 pm
I have suggested in writing to President Obama on two separate occasions that he work with the states to create sponsored cleanup crews to do something similar as Chad is doing. It would provide necessary work and boost local economies. It would also clean up landfills, lakes and rivers. The only response I have received is his statement that he will proceed to make America completely independent from foreign oil. Take a good look at where we get most of our oil from. It varies with which part of the country you live in. Conoco Philips also has a 45.6 million barrel reserve in Oklahoma. Like the crude up here and the natural gas; most of it will wind up in cheap foreign markets for refining and sale; sold back to us at a premium of course.
Why are we still flogging this dead horse?
What happened to the environmental President that the Democrats were touting? Mind you he has done some good things but a program such as Chad's or the magnitude of the one I've suggested to Barky would be monumental.

Mitchell D (87)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 5:44 pm
THIS is my kind of guy!
Like the fellow who is cloning the Redwoods, and other trees!

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 5:45 pm
Kudos Theodore for getting those ideas in the hopper--it might be included in the CCC proposal already moving or as a piece of where he goes after last night.You cannot currently send a star to Theodore because you have done so within the last week.

Carmen S (611)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 6:00 pm
Thanks for sharing this J.L., this man is wonderful and wish more people would follow his example.

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 6:05 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Mitchell because you have done so within the last week.
You are welcome Carmen. You cannot currently send a star to Carmen because you have done so within the last week.

Terry V (30)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 6:56 pm
I remember him coming to MN :-)

Pollution is a Global Killer

The 10 Commandments of Mother Earth

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 7:05 pm
MN was lucky. Thank you for posting links to the two relevant short videos Terry. Some of what he retrieves probably ended up in the rivers from floods washing them away and not from personal, intentional dumping. Which means some parts of the country can be expecting increases with their new weather. You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last week.

Sam E M (0)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 3:52 am
Can't anything be done to stop these ignorant people from throwing garbage into rivers in the first place?

Pami W (177)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 4:18 am
Bravo Chad, thanks for the story J.L. A.

JL A (281)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 8:08 am
You are welcome Pam.You cannot currently send a star to Pam because you have done so within the last week.
He does deserve thanks John! You cannot currently send a star to John because you have done so within the last week.

Tamara R Pearlman (68)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 9:15 am
This man proves once again that one person can make a difference!! With the Mississippi at the lowest water level in eons makes this waterway prime for removing a lot of waste. I'm certain this will make it easier for anybody consciencious enough to pull out items that don't belong in that river!! Great article and share JL!!

S S (0)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 12:27 pm
Thank you.

michelle t (41)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 12:57 pm
Humans sicken me.Shame on these filthy scumbags

Past Member (0)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 1:09 pm
This is a very smart man...I don't know what you can do with the tires but when he lets those friges dry he can sell them for scrap metal. Here in San Antonio they pay $10 a pound of metal. He probably does that already and at the same time he's cleaning the environment. We need more like him.

Natalie V (27)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 1:54 pm

Past Member (0)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 3:48 pm
Thank you for posting JL and God Bless this man, I have seen this trash in the Mississippi and in the little creeks. Anyone that would pollute like this is trash theirself.

JL A (281)
Thursday February 14, 2013, 4:11 pm
You are welcome Shanti.
You cannot currently send a star to Marie because you have done so within the last week.
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