Garbage Barge to make Portsmouth stop

By Tom Corrigan - [email protected]

Living Lands and Waters’ garbage barge makes its way down an unidentified waterway.

Living Lands and Waters’ garbage barge makes its way down an unidentified waterway.

There’s a barge – actually, a couple – on their way to Portsmouth on the Ohio River. Normally, that would hardly be newsworthy or in the least bit unusual. However, these barges are meant to serve a slightly different purpose than most. Even the way they are constructed is, somehow appropriately, a little different.

For example, what’s called a garbage barge was built in 1966. Some of its more interesting features include: steel trusses salvaged from a flooded strip club, awnings made from recycled license plates, outdoor siding made from reclaimed barn tin. Old bridge girders are incorporated into the exterior. Railings for a spiral staircase consist of reclaimed re-bar. Not incidentally, the garbage barge is not called the “garbage barge” because of what it’s made of, but because of what it hauls.

As you might have guessed by now, the garbage barge is used to collect trash and debris from rivers around the country. Since 1998, with the help of more than 100,000 volunteers, the barge has been used to remove an estimated 9.8 million pounds of trash from 24 rivers in 21 states.

Operated by a nonprofit known as Living Lands and Water, the barge and its supporting fleet will make its way to Portsmouth for the first time July 19-21. That supporting fleet includes a house barge that serves as home for 10 of the conservation group’s employees. One of those is Leah Cafarelli, who serves as Living Lands and Waters’ event organizer and marketing director.

According to Cafarelli (and the organization’s website,) Living Lands and Waters is an official 501(c)(3) headquartered in East Moline, Ill., founded by Chad Pregracke, a 2013 CNN “Hero.” Perhaps their biggest project so far is billed as the Great Mississippi River Cleanup, which has included multiple stops at various points along America’s biggest river. Other projects have included Hurricane Harvey Relief in 2017, a Tennessee River tour three years ago and Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005, among many events and efforts.

Cafarelli said while this is their first visit to Portsmouth, they have been fairly close, dropping anchor in Cincinnati and smaller towns such as Rome and Friendship. In Portsmouth, Living Lands and Waters will host two clean up sessions per day, one in the morning starting at 9:30 a.m. and an afternoon session at 1:30 p.m. Each session lasts three hours. For those in the morning session, lunch will be hosted for volunteers aboard the river cleanup barge. All cleaning supplies will be provided.

For the cleanup, small boats Cafarelli referred to as Jon boats, will line up along the shores of the Ohio River. Volunteers will fill those boats with trash and debris which will then be taken out to the garbage barge and ultimately recycled.

“We run the boats right into the banks, so nobody has to go out in the water,” Cafarelli said.

She added the larger barges will be docked as needed at the Court Street Landing.

A native of Salem, Mass., Cafarelli began as a volunteer for Living Lands and Water. She now lives on board the group’s house barge, which she described as a very nice way to travel.

“Everyone has their own bedroom. It’s pretty small but it’s very comfortable, more comfortable than most people might imagine.”

Cafarelli said she has visited Portsmouth once just to check the place out and drop off some flyers.

To volunteer or for more information, send an email to [email protected], or call 309-236-0728. You can also visit their website at

Living Lands and Waters’ garbage barge makes its way down an unidentified waterway. Lands and Waters’ garbage barge makes its way down an unidentified waterway.

By Tom Corrigan

[email protected]

Reach Tom Corrigan 740-353-3101

Reach Tom Corrigan 740-353-3101