NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Litter on Tennessee’s 96,167 miles of public roads – 4,022 of which are classified as scenic – is more than an eyesore. It’s an enormous burden to the state with impacts on public health and safety, the environment, and the economy. According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT) latest Visible Litter Study, littering in Tennessee has decreased by 12 percent since 2016. While these findings are encouraging, there are still more than 88 million pieces of litter on the state’s roadways at any given time.
TDOT’s Litter Grant Program, established in 1983 through funding by Tennessee’s Soft Drink and Malt Beverage industries, has played a crucial role in this downward trend as county governments implement litter prevention and education programming at the local level, directly reaching thousands of Tennesseans each year.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Litter Grant Program, which has improved communities in all 95 Tennessee counties. Counties use the funding from the program for initiatives that include litter and tarp law enforcement, cleanup and recycling events, litter prevention education campaigns, and participation in multijurisdictional and statewide collaborations with TDOT’s Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter prevention campaign and Keep Tennessee Beautiful and its local affiliates.
“TDOT’s Litter Grant funding model ensures a comprehensive and collaborative approach to litter abatement and is making a real difference in keeping the state of Tennessee safe and beautiful,” said TDOT Transportation Supervisor, Denise Baker. “By providing funding at the county level, communities across the state organize litter cleanups on roadways and riverways based on their specific needs. We are thrilled to celebrate the 40th year of the program.”
Collectively, the Litter Grant’s statewide approach is responsible for removing an average of 11,243 tons of litter each year. In 2022 alone, nearly 29 percent of that statewide total was diverted from landfills and recycled. Additionally, 3,480 illegal dumpsites were cleaned up. All told, more than 435,529 tons of litter have been removed from our roadways since the program’s inception.
The positive impact of TDOT’s Litter Grant Program is amplified through local government partners that invest additional resources, and by individuals who contribute tens of thousands of volunteer hours. This makes the program extremely efficient, saving communities and the state critical funds when compared to the costs of contracted litter pickup. The 2022 statewide average cost of a Litter Grant pickup was just $14.40 per mile, while contracted litter pickup routinely costs TDOT more than $500 a mile.
Annually, $5.5 million is allocated through the Litter Grant Program, a total that has remained the same since 2017. The amount each county receives is based on a formula accounting for population and road miles. The current series of Litter Grant contracts include $3,823,915 for local litter pickup operations and $1,656,085 for litter prevention education. Litter Grant contracts require that 20-35 percent of each county’s total funding is budgeted for litter prevention education efforts. Counties are required to tackle litter prevention education in three of five designated categories: students, public, media, business, and government. The grants also fund Keep Tennessee Beautiful, which provides litter prevention education, community engagement, and the promotion of volunteers for beautification projects.
Learn more about TDOT’s Litter Grant Program at https://www.tn.gov/tdot/environmental-home/environmental-highway-beautification-office/beautification-litter-grant.html. To get involved in litter prevention efforts in your community, visit NobodyTrashesTennessee.com. Find a cleanup event near you by visiting the NTT event calendar. Two additional ways to get involved include the no-cost Adopt-A-Highway program and reporting littering incidents through the Tennessee Litter Hotline (1-877-8LITTER). Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.