Chad Pregracke, The Rivers’ Garbageman- one man’s crusade to clean America’s rivers

chad pregracke cnn hero

Imagine a single man taking up the responsibility to clean up the whole Mississippi river. Born to KeeKee and Gary Pregracke, Chad Pregracke and his older brother Brent spent the majority of their time around the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Chad had worked as a commercial shell diver for the cultured pearl industry, during his summer holidays. He also worked as a commercial fisherman and as a barge hand. To save money and time, he preferred to stay around the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Only then, Chad began to realize how dirty the rivers were and how due to the negligence, toxic from the trash got accumulated along the river banks.

Seeing the muddled rivers, Chad started calling government agencies to inform about the problematic situation. He was only 17 years old then. But all his efforts and hope went in vein, because no one came forward. Finally in 1997, Chad Pregracke took it on himself to clean up the rivers.

I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tyres, cars, trucks and tops of school buses. I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it,  said Chad.

That was the beginning of his noble idea, which finally shaped up to a non profit organization. In 1998, when Chad was 23 years old, he founded ‘Living Lands & Waters’. Now the organization has grown and having full staffs and other fleet of equipments. Often known as ‘The Rivers’ Garbageman’, removing garbage from the rivers has become Chad Pregracke’s work for lifetime.


Till now, Chad, his crews of 12 members and over 70,000 volunteers who have joined his crusade have collected more than 6 million pounds of debris from the Mississippi River and other waterways across the United States. He has also retrieved 218 washing machines, 19 tractors, 12 hot tubs, four pianos and almost 1,000 refrigerators.

People intentionally dumped (these) in the river and also littered. Even 100 miles away, (trash) will find its way into a creek or a storm drain and ultimately into the Mississippi River’ , Chad Pregracke said.

Now, Chad Pregracke had expanded the mission of his organization to include Big River Educational Outreach, The Million Trees Project and the Adopt-a-River Mile programs.

chad pregracke cnn hero

During his free time, Chad still enjoys fishing, hunting, skateboarding, snowboarding, wind surfing and recycling the salvaged materials by incorporating them into new projects. Chad Pregracke has also authored the book ‘From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers‘.

His charismatic vision and leadership skills have garnered him with plenty of awards and recognition. Chad Pregracke is the recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Award for Public Service, America’s version of the Nobel Prize, in June 2002. Chad has also been declared as the top ten CNN heroes of 2013.

Image credits: 9jaflave, scholastic

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