Living Lands & Waters Sees Exciting Opportunities In River Restoration For 2019

Chad Pregracke, founder and CEO of Living Lands & Waters (LL&W), is contemplating another successful year. LL&W recently marked the milestone of having removed 10 million pounds of trash from our nation’s rivers.

At one point, LL&W’s teams were filling barges so fast that Mark Knoy, president and CEO of American Commercial Barge Line, donated the use of a jumbo hopper. Pregracke expects to need the use of another jumbo hopper this year as well.

The organization welcomed some new board members from the barge industry in 2018, including Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services; George Leavell, executive vice president of Wepfer Marine Inc.; Darin Adrian, executive vice president-river division at Marquette Transportation company LLC; and Andrew Brown, assistant general counsel at Ingram Barge Company. Board members at LL&W serve for three-year terms, no more than two consecutively.

Pregracke told The Waterways Journal that he is considering an evolution of the way that LL&W recruits and works with volunteers. His thoughts were sparked by several recent experiences in which volunteers from particular companies were able to work with LL&W cleanup crews over extended periods of time.

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One company that makes energy bars encourages productive employees to take off blocks of time to do charity works, which could mean serving on boards as well as activities like joining LL&W’s cleanup teams. Teams from this company helped LL&W remove 84,000 pounds of trash over a few days.

While LL&W will take volunteers any way it can get them, Pregracke said there are advantages to working with teams over a longer period of time. “It’s great for building relationships,” he said. He is working with marine industry board members to develop a program that will allow marine companies to provide groups of volunteers for several days.

“We want to make it a ‘turnkey’ program where we pick everyone up and take care of all the details,” he said. “The issue is that we work in a lot of rural areas on the rivers where there are not a lot of volunteers. Our motto is, ‘We bring the people to the problem,’ and that’s what we want to do.” That means lining up sponsorships and organizing logistics.

Plastic Recycling

One of LL&W’s sponsors, Proctor & Gamble, has sent many volunteers to LLW river cleanup events in Cincinnati, where it is headquartered. Pregracke said he is excited about a recent P&G innovation. In July, P&G announced it had developed, in partnership with a company called PureCycle Technologies, a new recycling process to remove odor and colors (like the bright orange of a Tide bottle) from recycled plastic to bring it up to a quality level that competes with “virgin” plastic.

When scaled up, said P&G, the process will be able to recycle up to 105 million pounds of plastic each year. PureCycle Technologies has begun construction on a recycling plant using the new technology in Lawrence County, Ohio. Pregracke said PureCycle has inquired whether LLW can provide up to 200,000 pounds of plastic removed from rivers.

Pregracke said LLW hopes to capitalize on the recent public attention on plastic in the oceans. There is currently underway a well-publicized effort to corral and remove the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a floating island of mostly plastic waste about the size of Texas that currents swirl about in the mid-Pacific Ocean.

“About 90 percent of ocean plastic actually originates in river systems,” said Pregracke, “and we want to focus on preventing it from getting to the oceans in the first place. It’s a lot cheaper and more practical.” LL&W’s goal for 2019 is to remove another 1 million pounds of trash from rivers in the calendar year.

Pregracke said that since he began his river cleanup work, the Upper Mississippi River has made the most progress. “I hear this all the time from towboat captains, recreational users and others,” he said. “Even during high water, it seems not as much junk is being washed down the Upper Mississippi.”

For 2019, he said, the Ohio River will be a special focus of LL&W’s efforts, with details to be announced over the coming year.