What is the Cost of Littering? Explore the Impacts on Tennessee

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With its breathtaking mountain, lake and river views, Tennessee is a source of pride for the residents who call the state home. However, although the Tennessee environment has so much natural beauty, it is also littered with trash in some areas. Litter threatens Tennessee’s otherwise pristine landscape and imposes financial and environmental tolls on the state.

Below are some of the financial and environmental costs of littering for Tennessee and what we can all do to help curb these costs:

The Financial Impacts of Littering

Each time an individual throws garbage from a window or does not dispose of trash properly, there is a financial cost to litter as much effort goes into keeping Tennessee clean. Each year, The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) spends an estimated $23 million on litter removal.

In addition, there are also less defined financial costs associated with litter. Tourism, for example, generates an average of $24 billion in domestic travel spending alone. However, litter tarnishes the state’s image and dramatically impacts Tennessee tourism. Think of the individual curb appeal (or lack thereof) that waste has on your neighborhood, and then imagine how litter affects tourism on a much larger scale.

Similarly, littering also affects your home or neighborhood. According to Keep Liberty Beautiful, 55% of realtors believe that a property value is reduced by 9% or more when visible litter is nearby.

The financial costs of litter stack up, but there is also the environmental impact to consider.

The Environmental Impacts of Littering

Litter poses a significant negative impact on wildlife. Animals can unknowingly ingest or become entangled in debris, leading to injury or death. While litter can impact all animals negatively, many anglers would be shocked to know that many sportfish, such as the largemouth bass, can decrease in population. That is because litter builds up algae blooms, creating toxicity in the water.

Discarded waste can enter Tennessee waterways, from lakes to streams. These become polluted and, as mentioned, will impact wildlife populations; it can also end in your drinking water!

We have also seen degradation in many areas of Tennessee due to persistent littering. In fact, according to research, The Tennessee River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. To combat the pollution crisis we, as Tennesseans, must take collective action.

Government and Community Initiatives

Aside from leading to financial and economic impacts in Tennessee, littering is also a crime. Littering between 5 and 10 pounds is considered criminal and comes with a $500 fine, court costs, up to six month of jail time and public service of up to 80 hours. Learn more about littering laws and the consequences here.

Below are some community initiatives to follow:

  • Adopt-A-Highway Groups: These Adopt-a-Highway volunteer groups take responsibility for regularly cleaning a specific stretch of highway. This not only helps keep our roadways free from trash, but it also saves taxpayers money on highway upkeep costs.
  • The Great American Cleanup: This nationwide initiative also operates in Tennessee and involves various community cleanup events.
  • No Trash November: Held in the month of November, Tennesseans are encouraged to work together to reduce the amount of litter in the state.

Aside from these initiatives, education goes a long way. Some of the most popular awareness campaigns include the following:

  • Nobody Trashes Tennessee: NTT focuses on educating the public about the impact of littering on Tennessee’s natural beauty and wildlife.
  • Litter Grant Program: This TDOT-backed initiative funds local governments for litter prevention. It supports education, prevention programs and litter pickup efforts.
  • Sports Partnerships: TDOT collaborates with sports organizations to spread anti-littering messages.
  • Keep Tennessee Beautiful: This campaign works year-round to educate Tennesseans of all ages about the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy environment.

Together, We Can Address the Environmental and Financial Impact of Littering

The financial and environmental costs of littering in Tennessee are staggering, but litter in the state is not impossible to overcome. Many small changes can make a big difference in the environment. By adhering to anti-littering laws and advocating for responsible waste disposal, we can work together to create a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous state. Let’s work together to do our part to keep Tennessee trash-free!


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