Tennessee spends about $15 million a year to clean up 28 million pounds of litter, yet is fighting a losing battle.
“Our water, wildlife and wild places are drowning in litter,” said Mike Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
Now, with the aid of the TWF, the state is stepping up its efforts to combat the problem with a comprehensive study on how to solve it.
Tennessee CLEAN, an anti-litter initiative of the TWF, is the first such approach in a generation.
“There are groups out there doing great anti-litter work,” Butler said. “But, ultimately, litter control in Tennessee is fragmented. If we want to see reductions in litter pollution, we need a comprehensive and statewide approach. This approach is designed to closely examine complex issues and recommend solutions that are reasonable and effective.
“There have been enough proposals over the years that look at one slice of the problem and then go nowhere. We sought this study and designed the process to be collaborative from start to finish because Tennessee can’t let self-interests and the objections of a few stop a meaningful discussion about how to solve this problem.”
Tennessee CLEAN proposes any work toward littler 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 advocates, among others.
Plastic bottles and other plastic items are a major part of the problem because they are so widely used, and once they are discarded it can take centuries for them to bio-degrade. Plastic bottles thrown away today will be littering the landscape for future generations.
Discarded plastic items also represent a hazard for fish and wildlife, which sometimes ingest smaller pieces or become entangled in plastic containers.
Cardboard and paper, while bio-degrading much faster than plastic, in the meantime creates an eyesore in public parks and natural areas.
In addition to being unsightly, litter such as broken class, aluminum cans and other refuse can create safety hazards and provide breeding grounds for vermin and mosquitoes.
Even discarded fishing line causes problems; it can snarl boat props, ensnare birds and wildlife, and present a hazard to swimmers.
Those are some of the problems the study will define and address.
“We invite all parties to be a part of a meaningful solution,” Butler said.
Tennesseans can learn more about the initiative and voice their views on litter in the state at tennesseecleanact.org.