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Life in the Trash Lane

Toss Me a Life Jacket!

Toss Me a Life Jacket!

Article 1 - January 11, 2019
Written by Crystal Milburn


Hello! We are Living Lands & Waters and we’re living life in the trash lane. Our number one job is to leave America’s rivers cleaner than we found them while educating students about the environmental impacts of waste.


Trash Collectors

Chad Pregracke’s first love was the Mississippi River (see also: his back yard). But our love has spread far and wide over the 20 years since we became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization!

Sponsors and volunteers make living the dream possible. There’s no denying that they are our heroes and we are forever grateful for every single one of them.

We also have a lot of love for our fleet of five barges, two towboats, five workboats, two skid steers, an excavator, five work trucks and a crane.

The floating portion of our fleet, “the barge,” makes a statement wherever it travels. It’s essentially a floating recycling center that houses our equipment and crew.  Built out of repurposed barns and a flooded Quad Cities strip club, the house barge serves as both the crew’s teaching and living quarters. If one of us isn’t cooking up a gourmet meal to share, we default to making some mean frozen pizzas in the galley!

Click here for a virtual tour!


The Really Classy, Trashy Types

The types of trash we collect consists of 55-gallon barrels, tires, appliances, bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica and more odd objects than you can imagine. Plastic is, by far, the number one thing we find in America’s rivers. Loooooots of plastic.

Some of the trash is thrown there intentionally and some of it lands there with the wind. Maybe some of it grows legs and walks itself there, we’re not really sure but we don’t discriminate - our job is to collect as much of it as possible.

And sometimes we wear our trashy tiaras while sitting on garbage thrones while doing said job, too. #classyandtrashy


How Much Trash?

We’ve just collected our 10 millionth pound of trash in our 20th year! With more than 100,000 volunteers working side-by-side with us, we’ve lifted most of it by hand. But, with our excavator in full commission, we expect to start blowing those numbers out of the water (because sometimes you have to take the easy pun) starting in our 2019 season. Stay tuned!


Where Does the Trash Go?

Once the barge is full, the majority of garbage we collect is recycled at one of our Recycle Like a Rockstar events.

But the stuff we don’t get...

You’ve seen The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? And the sea turtle with a plastic straw embedded in its nose? It’s estimated that 90% of all ocean trash comes from rivers. The good news? Something can be (and is being) done about it!


The Cost of River & Ocean Trash

The effects of aquatic pollution on 1) river and ocean life and 2) humans are devastating, not to mention the huge economic costs. Fisheries are at risk. There are risks of entanglement and threats to animal behavior, health and existence. They often confuse plastic for food, then become prey and eventually make their way up the food chain to your dinner plate.


You know what this means, right?


It means that you don’t have to be a full-fledged tree hugger to pitch in and care about the environment! Even if you’re doing it for yourself and the sake of your kiddos, every effort helps. How exciting is that?!


What does that mean, though?


We’re talking about education and awareness, especially while consumer-ing! Can we avoid buying and using single-use plastics? Are we aware that there are microplastics in many home beauty products and clothing items? Can we use reusable bags while shopping (groceries or otherwise)? These are just a few ideas and we’ll get into more in future blogs!

Consider this. Before you buy something - disposable or reusable - ask yourself, “Do I need it?” Even buying an excessive amount of reusable bottles, bags and straws, albeit well-intentioned, is still an excess. If we take care of and use the things we already own, it’s easier to reduce!

And, if you want to pitch in outside of your household, one way is to check out our volunteer opportunities. The rivers are vast and we can use all the help we can get! You might get dirty (and by “might” we mean you absolutely will be filthy) but you’re guaranteed to have a blast with this crazy crew!



That’s our very abbreviated story! We have much more to share so check back often for more trashy content that you can’t live without so you don’t miss a barge beat! #lifeinthetrashlane


Click here to learn how to get a radical, eco-friendly bracelet with your donation of $20 or more!




True Story

This is the true story of 10 river rats picked to live on a barge, clean up rivers and their watersheds, work alongside volunteers and have their lives turned upside down. Follow along to find out what happens when people stop being trashy and start getting environmentally savvy!

Our Impact

  • Pounds of Trash Removed


  • Volunteers Engaged


  • Students Educated


  • Trees Planted


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