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Chad Pregracke Chad Pregracke on a barge full of garbage. (Photo courtesy Living Lands and Waters)

The Rivers' Garbage Man

Chad Pregracke cleans America's waterways

By Alysa Goethe | null null , null

Chad Pregracke lives where he works, on a river. The 32-year-old environmentalist has made it his life's mission to clean up the trash that accumulates in America's major waterways. He and a team of six people live and work off a barge they use to travel from town to town and collect trash.

Pregracke grew up on the Mississippi River, outside of Hampton, Illinois. He saw the river become a dumping ground for everything from Styrofoam cups to bowling balls to refrigerators. At the age of 17, he decided to do something about it and adopted a 35-mile stretch of the Mississippi as his mission.

After a year of working alone, he started a non-profit organization, Living Lands and Waters, that is dedicated to cleaning up and preserving our nation's rivers. He and his crew are paid through donations as they drag trash out of the Mississippi, Ohio, Anacostia, Potomac, Missouri, and Illinois rivers. In the last 10 years, he and his crew have pulled about 4 million pounds of garbage out of the water.

They also recruit volunteers to help and then teach them and others in education seminars about how to keep the rivers clean. He hopes to someday open up a floating classroom on the Mississippi to educate teachers and elementary students about the importance of preserving rivers.

Pregracke has written a book about his experiences, From the Bottom Up. He was also featured on the CBS Sunday Morning TV program where he talked about his love for the rivers.

"It's like a living life force," he told the reporter. "To me the river represents freedom, a way of life."

Because of his efforts, Pregracke has won numerous awards, including recently being named The Hardest Working Person in America. He won $100,000 and was featured in a short documentary shown at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

Other awards include Modern Woodman of America Award, the Illinois Wildlife Foundation Award, and Soil and Water Conservation Society Award—to name a few. When asked about his awards, Pregracke spreads the praise.

"Everybody makes a big difference," he told Scholastic News. "Everything you do adds up, and anything you see you can change."

His work is hard but fulfilling, he continued.

"You get to see what you accomplish every day," he said. "It's great to be able to do something you like."

For more information on Pregracke and his Living Lands and Waters organization, visit the website at


Celebrate Earth Day and the fight to keep our planet clean on April 22. Scholastic Kid Reporters explore ways to make every day Earth Day in the Earth Day 2011 Special Report.


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