Posted 6/12/19

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles exploring the worsening problems with littering in the Cleveland and Bradley County community, and how local organizations and agencies are …

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(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles exploring the worsening problems with littering in the Cleveland and Bradley County community, and how local organizations and agencies are working to reduce its negative impact. Series topics will range from who's doing it, to the legal penalties against those who are caught, and what's being done to stop it.)

Nobody trashes Tennessee.

That’s a reference to the state of Tennessee’s anti-littering campaign that was rolled out in 2017 in an effort to keep trash off of the Volunteer State’s roadways.

“From the Great Smoky Mountain region, to the Mississippi River, and every stretch of roadway in between, litter on our highways takes away from Tennessee’s natural beauty,” then-Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said in a press release shortly after the campaign was announced. “It’s not only an eyesore, but it costs TDOT more than $15 million a year to clean up.” 

The “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” campaign was based on a study that found that while littering has decreased in Tennessee, the problem persists, with research indicating that “30% of the state’s litter is ‘deliberate,’ meaning trash is tossed right out of vehicle windows.”

The campaign was based on three studies conducted in 2016 by nFront Consulting, Baselice & Associates and Prince Market Research. The results of surveys and focus groups were a part of the research design.

Interestingly, according to a study listed on the campaign's website, the study revealed "[young] women may be responsible for more littering than any other age or gender group."

The female respondents self-described themselves as litterers. Young male respondents ran a close second.

"While this survey uncovered dozens of actionable insights, its biggest contribution to solving the Tennessee littering problem was identifying a target audience for the upcoming campaign," according to the website. "The primary target audience was identified as women 16 to 34, with 71% of them describing themselves as litterers — higher than any other gender or age range. The secondary audience was identified to be men 16 to 34, with 64% of them describing themselves as litterers."

In addition, "multiple focus group participants identified women in their lives that litter in order to keep their cars clean. They would rather litter than be perceived to have a dirty car."

The following determinations were made, according to the study:

• "Nine out of 10 focus group participants admitted to littering in the past year."

• "Most participants felt that Tennessee litter laws are not well enforced. Only 19%  of participants said they have ever known someone to be ticketed for littering."

• "Tennesseans could not fathom littering in 'sacred' Tennessee places, such as parks, religious sites and sporting venues."

• "Preserving Tennessee’s natural beauty was a huge 'preservation motivator.'"

• "Participants were asked if littering was a problem in Tennessee. After responding, they were told that there are 100 million pieces of trash on Tennessee roads, and that it costs $15 million to clean up."

Nobody should trash Cleveland, either. Despite efforts from the city and local anti-littering programs to tackle the problem the problem persists. While some areas of the city are litter-free, others are strewn with litter and other discarded items such as furniture.

Among the worst areas is in Wildwood Avenue area, where sidewalks are covered with shredded corrugated boxes, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Discarded tires also align the roadside, harboring moisture which can provide a safe haven for mosquitoes to breed.

In addition, a privately owned tract of land located near one of the main thoroughfares into the city and to the tourist-heavy Ocoee Region is dotted with abandoned tires and other refuse.

According to the "Nobody Trashes Tennessee" website, the majority of littering is caused by negligence.

• 72% is considered negligent litter, which includes vehicle debris and trash flying out of uncovered pickup truck beds.

• 28% of litter is classified as intentional litter, meaning it’s thrown right out of vehicle windows.

• Beverage containers, lids and straws are the biggest problem with deliberate litter (11%). Within that category, snack food packaging (6%), napkins, paper bags, and tissues (5%), and cigarette packaging (2%) represent the next most significant items.

• Interstates have the most negligent litter, while state highways, U.S. highways, and local roads have more deliberate litter.

• Litter accumulates in places of high traffic, and in places where little-to-no personal ownership is present, such as rest stops.

Respondents in the survey stated they "would refrain from littering if a child, including their own, asked them not to litter."

While there are multiple efforts undertaken by volunteers to keep Cleveland and Bradley County litter-free, there is an indication that certain areas of the city where lower income residents reside may lack a sense of community organization that enables them to work together to ensure their neighborhoods are free of litter.
(Next: A handful of organizations are working to reduce littering in the Cleveland and Bradley County community. They, and their efforts, will be profiled in Thursday's edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)


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