Tennessee is known for its natural beauty, with 4,022 of the state’s 96,167 miles of public roads classified as scenic.
These roads play an essential role in connecting communities and families as well as driving the economy.
Litter costs the state $19 million annually. Litter along our public roads has implications beyond being an eyesore.
It’s an enormous burden to the state with impacts on public health and safety, the environment and the economy.
Public education and cleaning up this litter along public roads cost the Tennessee Department of Transportation $19 million annually.
Since 1983, a special tax levied on soft drinks and malt beverages has funded these efforts – funds that could potentially be used for road maintenance and infrastructure improvements.
Nobody Trashes Tennessee, Tennessee’s litter-prevention campaign managed by TDOT, is a comprehensive, statewide communications campaign that tells the story of litter on Tennessee’s roadways and its impact on public health and safety, the ecosystem and the economy.
By juxtaposing the beauty of Tennessee with the ugliness of litter, NTT leverages the intense feelings of state pride to activate Tennesseans across the state to become a part of the solution.
The campaign provides resources and opportunities for residents to take both personal and volunteer actions to help prevent and reduce litter.
Using entertaining content to engage with Gen Z and Millennial target audiences, the creative approach draws them into our story and taps into their environmentally conscious perspectives and attitudes.
By showing them the scope of the problem and the damage caused by litter, we believe we can push them to take action to reduce their littering behavior and get their peers involved – positioning them as champions and encouraging them to volunteer to get involved in the larger issue.
Based on our analysis of these audiences’ demographic and psychographic profiles, they are already primed to take cause-related actions, and our next phase is designed to tap into this potential.
To determine the scope of the litter problem along our roadways, TDOT conducted research in 2006 and 2016.
This statewide research included the “Visible Litter Study,” a pioneering field study of litter along TDOT rights-of-way (nFront Consulting, October 2016).
The findings revealed that while the state of littering in Tennessee has improved significantly since 2006 – dropping by 43 percent – there are still 100 million pieces of litter on the state’s roadways at any given time, and 18 percent of this litter ends up in streams and waterways as pollution.
The study also showed that 28 percent of litter is deliberate.
Beverage containers, lids, and straws were revealed as the biggest problem with intentional litter. The remaining 72 percent is considered unintentional litter and includes vehicle debris and trash flying out of uncovered vehicles.
Research conducted in May 2021 that helped guide the next phase of the NTT campaign includes a quantitative survey to determine baseline awareness of the litter problem (Decision Analyst, May 2021) and focus groups to help understand attitudes towards litter and to test litter-prevention messaging (Epiphany, May 2021).
The campaign also includes expanded statewide public education initiatives and additional resources and support for all 95 county partners – who in 2020 alone and despite COVID restrictions – removed 21 million pounds of litter from roadways and cleaned up 4,023 illegal roadside dump sites.
As the Volunteer State, our unique character is built on our history of stewardship and service. Learn more about how to join the movement to prevent and reduce littering at NobodyTrashesTennessee.com.
Two ways to get involved include the Adopt-A-Highway Program and reporting littering incidents through the Tennessee Litter Hotline (1-877-8LITTER).
Clay Bright is TDOT’s commissioner of transportation.