Comprehensive, Statewide Litter Pollution Study Underway

Jun 10, 2021

Pile of trash on rocky bank next to a body of water.
Tennessee’s litter problem outweighs the $15 million taxpayers spend annually to clean it up.

Upcoming litter study marks first fresh progress in decades.

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) voted unanimously, 20 to 0, to begin a comprehensive study of litter pollution in the state. This marks the first fresh progress on statewide litter control in a generation.

The study will address topics such as the sources and composition of litter, financial and environmental costs, economic opportunities of recovering waste, the effectiveness of existing efforts and proven solutions to recover litter.

Tennessee CLEAN, an anti-litter initiative of Tennessee Wildlife Federation, advocated for the study.

“There are groups out there doing great anti-litter work but, ultimately, litter control in Tennessee is fragmented. If we want to see reductions in litter pollution, we need a comprehensive and statewide approach,” said Michael Butler, CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “TACIR is designed to closely examine complex issues like this and to recommend solutions that are reasonable and effective.”

TACIR is a nonpartisan body that serves as the research arm of the Tennessee General Assembly. The commission’s 25-member board consists of private citizens and public officials representing all levels of government.

Tennessee’s litter problem is well documented.

Despite $15 million in taxpayer money being spent to clean up around 23 million pounds of litter year after year, an estimated 100 million pieces of new litter are always along Tennessee roads. The Tennessee River contains more microplastics per gallon than any other studied river in the world. Litter also causes direct damage to key parts of Tennessee’s economy. Tourism and tourist perception is negatively impacted and agriculture suffers an estimated $60 million in damages annually.

“There have been enough proposals over the years that look at one slice of the problem and then go nowhere,” said Butler. “We sought this TACIR study, and designed the process Tennessee CLEAN creates, to be collaborative from start to finish because Tennessee can’t let self-interest and the objections of a few stop a meaningful discussion about how to solve this problem—our water, wildlife and wild places are drowning in litter.”

In addition to the mixed perspectives of TACIR, Tennessee CLEAN proposes any work toward litter reduction goals be overseen in the long term by a Tennessee CLEAN Commission. Members are to be leaders from agriculture, retail, manufacturing, single-use plastic distributors, local government and conservation, among others.

“We invite all parties to be part of a meaningful solution,” added Butler.

Tennesseans can learn more about Tennessee CLEAN and voice their views on litter in the state at tennesseeCLEANact.org

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