Why We’re Tackling Litter in Tennessee

Apr 26, 2021

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Tennessee’s litter problem has gone unchecked for too long. While much is being done to clean up our state every day, we need a more comprehensive approach to address the scale of Tennessee’s litter crisis.

There’s simply no corner of Tennessee untouched by litter pollution.

When we think about the great state of Tennessee we envision diverse wildlife, stunning wild places, and the iconic image of a black bear wandering the Great Smoky Mountains. But over the years, those picture-perfect images have become scarred by the presence of litter. A lot of litter.

Litter piles up along our roadways and shorelines. It tumbles across our fields and sinks into our streambeds. There’s simply no corner of Tennessee untouched by litter pollution.

That’s why we launched Tennessee CLEAN (Cleaner Landscapes for the Economy, Agriculture, and Nature) to find bigger, practical, and more comprehensive approaches to combating litter.


Litter pollution may seem like a slightly unusual issue for a wildlife nonprofit to take on. After all, there are organizations dedicated to anti-litter policies.

But litter pollution does harm wildlife in measurable ways—from filling their stomachs with plastics to altering habitats to disrupting their biology and reproduction. Even with that considered, litter creates an even more fundamental problem for the whole conservation movement. Indifference.

>>READ MORE: A little litter adds up to big problems for wildlife

If Tennessee Wildlife Federation has learned one thing over our 75 years, it is that people will conserve what they care about.

Litter pollution gives some people permission to not care and drives away the rest. It is a visible signal that this place, wherever “this” is, isn’t worth caring about.

One person’s indifference spreads to those who are less committed to preserving a natural area. Those who are committed will pick it up and make a place better, but only to see it be trashed once again. In time, this can drive away even the most dedicated conservationists.

If our natural places don’t have the emotional investment of Tennesseans, we will lose them. Millions have been spent on anti-litter campaigns and there are people doing great work every day to clean up our state. But after more than half a century, it’s clear we need to do better if we want people to keep falling in love with our great outdoors.

That’s why we are bringing together people and leaders at all levels to explore ideas—old and new—to find a comprehensive solution to solve litter pollution in a way that’s right for Tennessee.

If you’re as tired of seeing and cleaning up litter as we are, join us at tennesseeCLEANact.org.

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