ST. LOUIS - Families spent Saturday morning in Downtown St. Louis sorting mountains of trash pulled from the Mississippi River, finding what can be recycled and kept out of landfills.
Volunteers piled trash on long wooden troughs. Before they could start working, one organizer stopped the pop music blaring from the loudspeakers. She warned the hundreds of men, women and children to avoid opening any containers with liquid inside.
“Just because it looks like Mountain Dew doesn't mean it is Mountain Dew."
The brick walkway was surrounded by huge dumpsters full of garbage. But, the event offered a dance club atmosphere. Paper sleeves, latex gloves covered by work gloves, and safety goggles were the dress code. Volunteers with the group Living Lands and Waters usually pull trash from Area Rivers. Saturday morning, they took a break and headed to Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard near the Gateway Arch to deal with the junk.
“We took it out of there in the same fashion with a lot volunteers at different events,” said organization founder and president Chad Pegracke. “And now, we are doing the right thing by recycling everything that possibly came out of the river."
The music helped move the trash and workday along.
“We're having a lot of fun,” Pegracke said over Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.
The process would not keep everything out of area landfills. Bottles with liquids inside, foam, and paper went to the trash heap. But after workers sent plastic, aluminum and glass to Republic Services, the pile shrunk to a thin layer of garbage.
“If I had to guess, 200,000-30,000 pounds easy is we are going to get recycled today,” Pegracke said of the pile that started with 100,000 pounds of trash pulled from the waterway.
Before he got back to work, Pegracke offered one more number.
"18-million people get their daily drinking water directly out of the Mississippi River. And so if you live in the City of St. Louis, you're drinking the water as well."
The volunteers kept fighting the muck to keep that water clear.
“I think that I see and get work side-by-side with America’s best -- people that will volunteer their Saturday and bring their kids who want to do something bigger than them,” Pegracke looked around the riverfront. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Living Lands and Waters volunteers will take on the Ohio River in Fall 2017.
Learn more at: http://livinglandsandwaters.org/
Local volunteers plan to clean river water near Grafton, Illinois when high river levels fall. Keep track of all Missouri cleanup projects at http://www.mostreamteam.org/Whats_Happening.asp.