Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee declared October to officially be ‘Keep the Tennessee River Watershed Beautiful Month.’ In celebration, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB) has hosted cleanups supported in part by a Special Litter Grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

“The KTNRB team has been rapidly expanding their impact on litter removal from the Tennessee River watershed, having rallied over 600 volunteers to remove 135,000 lbs. of trash from our waterways just in 2021 alone,” said Mike McClanahan, Manager with TDOT’s Highway Beautification Office. “The energized partnerships, passionate volunteers, and growing litter prevention awareness around KTNRB’s work are contagious, as demonstrated in their cleanups held earlier this month.”

Cleanups were held in both Meigs County and Hardin County, Tenn. this month, where a combined 51 volunteers helped to remove a total of 12,434 lbs. of trash from the Tennessee River within several hours. The totals from these two events, however, are just the beginning.

The $180,000 grant from TDOT will be used towards continued river cleanup efforts as well as new, preventative infrastructure that will be installed along the Tennessee River watershed.

“TDOT has been a part of the KTNRB story from Day 1, and is giving us just the kind of boost we need to not only sustain our existing cleanup efforts, but to address the litter crisis from the multilayered approach that it’s going to take in order to make true change for our local waterways,” said Kathleen Gibi, KTNRB Executive Director.

The grant entails a five-part work plan:


  1. Purchase of Ten New Seabin Devices

Through a grant from Keep America Beautiful in early 2021, KTNRB launched a pilot test run of two Seabin devices, which were installed at Volunteer Landing Marina and Louisville Landing Marina in the Knoxville area. The devices are essentially large electric skimmers attached to docks that work 24/7, removing up to 3,000 lbs. of trash and debris from the water in one year. Additionally, the devices filter out oils, gasoline, and microplastics from the water.

“This part of the grant is particularly exciting for us because until now, our efforts have been to prevent microplastics,” said Gibi. “For the first time, we now have the opportunity to literally remove them from the river’s waters.”

Through the TDOT grant, ten new devices will be installed at partnering marinas on the Tennessee River and its tributaries, making it the largest network of such devices on a water system in the United States. Given that KTNRB was recently awarded another two Seabin devices from Keep America Beautiful, that’s a potential of 42,000 lbs. of trash removed annually by the Seabin devices installed within the Tennessee River system.

  1. Purchase of Storm Drain Catch Nets

The grant from TDOT will also allow for the purchase of several storm drain catch nets. These have been widely used in Australia and essentially look like a large, metal netted socks that attach to the end of a storm drain.

KTNRB staff will monitor and maintain one catch net in the Knoxville, Tenn. area and will seek out partners to maintain several other catch nets on the Tennessee River or its tributaries within the State of Tennessee.

Gibi said that the intent is to install the catch nets on drains near state-managed freeways so that the litter collected can be analyzed and reported back to TDOT. If all goes well, KTNRB will pursue installing more drains to protect the river from the source of much of the litter found in our waterways.

Experts have found that 80% of the litter in our waterways was originally littered on land, often then washed or blown by storms into our storm drain systems, streams, and ultimately rivers. Tennessee’s Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter prevention campaign estimates that there are 100 million pieces of litter on the state’s roadways at any given time.


  1. Continued Support of Eight Major River Cleanups

Funds will support KTNRB to contract he national nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters, to bring five 30-foot work boats to supplement KTNRB’s 26-foot work boat. Cleanups will take place in:

  • October 2021
    • Meigs County, Tenn. on Watts Bar Lake [COMPLETED]
      13 volunteers removed 5,584 lbs. of trash
    • Hardin County, Tenn. on Pickwick Lake [COMPLETED]
      38 volunteers removed 6,850 lbs. of trash
  • March/April 2022
    • New Johnsonville, Tenn. on Kentucky Lake
    • Paris, Tenn. on Kentucky Lake
  • October 2022
    • Farragut/Lenoir City, Tenn. on Fort Loudoun Lake
    • Soddy Daisy/Chattanooga, Tenn. on Chickamauga Lake
  • March/April 2023
    • Pittsburgh/Jasper, Tenn. on Nickajack Lake
    • Morristown/Bean Station, Tenn. on Cherokee Lake
  1. Supporting the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program

TDOT has already helped to fund art wraps for cigarette receptacles that KTNRB had designed to both raise water quality awareness and prevent cigarette litter. There are currently 500 cigarette receptacles installed throughout the seven-state Tennessee River watershed.

Dollywood currently has 26 receptacles installed and is the first theme park in the world to recycle every cigarette butt discarded within their park. Additionally, over 100 receptacles were recently installed at every campground and marina owned by Tennessee State Parks.

Partners at locations like marinas, campgrounds, and tourism sites install and maintain the receptacles. Rather than disposing of the cigarettes, they’re shipped to TerraCycle at no cost for the microfibers of plastic located in the cigarette filters to then be recycled into items like outdoor plastic furniture. The TDOT grant will help to support the costs of upkeeping this program for the receptacles installed in Tennessee.

In the program’s first shipments to TerraCycle, 71,000 cigarette butts have been recycled through KTNRB’s program. Gibi estimates this program to have the potential of recycling up to 1 million cigarette butts each year.

  1. Furthering the Adopt a River Mile/Adopt a Storm Drain Programs

KTNRB offers free cleanup gear and swag for those who participate in the Adopt a River Mile or Adopt a Storm Drain programs. In 2021, river mile adoptions soared, and KTNRB now has 105 river miles adopted. For perspective, the Tennessee River is 652-miles long.

The TDOT grant will support this program by covering costs of supplies and shipping of packages for adoptions that take place within the State of Tennessee.

“This work plan represents a strategic effort that we’ve been working toward for the last couple of years, and it’s really commendable that TDOT sees the need to make such an investment the Tennessee River watershed, the original transportation system for our region,” said Gibi.

To learn more about Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, visit

Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful is a 501c3 nonprofit that formed in 2016 and is the first Keep America Beautiful affiliate in the nation to focus solely on a river. Its mission is to rally communities along the Tennessee River and its tributaries to preserve, improve and protect the river for generations to come. To date, KTNRB has rallied 2,353 volunteers to remove 312,977 lbs. of trash along the 652-mile Tennessee River and its tributaries that reach into seven states.
Contact: Kathleen Gibi, Executive Director

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