The Tennessee Recycling Coalition presented its ‘2023 Nonprofit Recycler of the Year Award’ to Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful at their annual conference held in Gatlinburg, Tenn. in August. LEFT TO RIGHT: Amber Greene, Executive Director of the Tennessee Recycling Coalition; Edmond McDavis, Executive Director for the Tennessee Delta Alliance (who worked on the project when he was with Keep Tennessee Beautiful); Kathleen Gibi, Executive Director of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful; Monica Kizer, Communications Director at Keep Tennessee Beautiful, and Lincoln Young, President of the Tennessee Recycling Coalition.
Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB) was just named 2023 Nonprofit Recycler of the Year
Since the project launched at Dollywood in 2021, the program has led to the plastic getting recycled from approximately 350,000 cigarette butts. The project also made Dollywood the first theme park in the world to recycle the plastic from every cigarette butt collected in guest-facing receptacles on its property.
“We’re so proud of this honor, more than anything because of the commitment from Dollywood and the other supporting partners who worked to ensure that this trailblazing collaboration would protect the Tennessee River watershed from the harmful effects cigarette litter,” said Kathleen Gibi, KTNRB Executive Director.
“Taking the effort to the next step of recycling the plastic from otherwise discarded cigarette waste makes it all the more impactful and is yet the latest example of Dollywood’s reputation of working toward the greater good.”KTNRB was able to provide Dollywood with 26 art-wrapped cigarette receptacles through a collaboration of grants and sponsorships from Keep America Beautiful, Keep Tennessee Beautiful, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the American Eagle Foundation.
Bobby Johnson, Grounds Manager at Dollywood and implementer of the theme park’s Cigarette Recycling Program, poses with Kathleen Gibi, Executive Director for Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, both holding the awards recently awarded by the Tennessee Recycling Coalition.
Plastic from more than 250,000 cigarette butts recycled to date
Last year, Dollywood partnered with the river cleanup nonprofit, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB), on a massive cigarette litter prevention project, making Dollywood the first theme park in the world to recycle the plastic from every cigarette butt collected in guest-facing receptacles on its property.
KTNRB was able to provide Dollywood with 26 art-wrapped cigarette receptacles through a collaboration of grants and sponsorships from Keep America Beautiful, Keep Tennessee Beautiful, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the American Eagle Foundation.
“This is a pioneering step that Dollywood is taking with this project — one that sets an example that our waterways are worth protecting and one that has the largest recycling impact of its kind within the seven-state Tennessee River watershed,” said Kathleen Gibi, KTNRB Executive Director. “We’re grateful to all of the partners who have made this project possible.”
This is one of 26 cigarette receptacles installed throughout Dollywood as part of a recycling project with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful. The cigarette butts collected are shipped to TerraCycle for the plastic microfibers found in cigarette filters to be recycled into outdoor plastic furniture.
In gratitude of the continuing impact from Dollywood’s efforts, KTNRB gifted two benches made from tightly compressed plastic that came from used cigarette butts. The benches were donated to KTNRB by TerraCycle, an international recycling company that recycles the cigarette plastic into outdoor furniture. The donated benches have appropriately been installed near Dollywood’s River Rampage water ride.
Dollywood has recycled the plastic from more than 250,000 cigarette butts to date from receptacles installed at designated smoking sections within the theme park. “Dollywood has been recognized as one of the most beautiful theme parks in the world due, in part, to the beauty of East Tennessee,” said Carol Agee, Dollywood Sr. Manager of Community Affairs and Strategic Alliances.
“It is vital for us to maintain this beauty by caring for our natural surroundings. Through our partnership with KTNRB, we are able to take hundreds of thousands of cigarette butts and remove them from the waste stream.
”The Pigeon River is part of the Tennessee River watershed and runs through the center of Dollywood.”
In January 2019, CNN reported cigarette filters, which contain tightly compacted plastic microfibers, to be “the No.1 plastic pollutant” in the world. Studies have also found that once in the water, a littered cigarette butt can contain enough toxins to kill aquatic life within two gallons of surrounding water.
Representatives from the groups that made Dollywood‘s massive cigarette plastic recycling project possible pose with a bench made from recycled cigarette plastic. Two of these benches are now installed near Dollywood’s ‘River Rampage’ ride. Seated on bench, left to right: Carol Agee (Dollywood), Kathleen Gibi (Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful), Melinda Watson (TVA); Back row, left to right: Bobby Johnson (Dollywood), Jessica Hall (American Eagle Foundation), Mark Huber (Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful), Edmond McDavis (Keep Tennessee Beautiful).
How the project works
Keep America Beautiful and Keep Tennessee Beautiful provided KTNRB funding for the cost of the receptacles, estimated around $8,000.
Dollywood designed the art wraps to match the theme park’s branding, and KTNRB had the wraps printed onto the receptacles with a combination of grants and sponsorships from Keep America Beautiful, the American Eagle Foundation, and TVA. Dollywood installed the receptacles throughout the theme park property and staff regularly empty the cigarette butts until full boxes are ready to be sent off for recycling.
Once Dollywood’s staff members collect enough cigarette butts to send off, TerraCycle covers the cost of shipping to their facility in New Jersey.
Dollywood staff store the collected butts until a bulk shipment can be sent for the cigarettes’ plastic to be recycled.
TerraCycle then works with processors and manufacturers to recycle the plastic microfibers found in cigarette filters into outdoor plastic furniture. KTNRB is able to track how many cigarette butts have been processed through TerraCycle’s website once they have been processed through the recycling facility. In total, KTNRB has 800 art-wrapped cigarette receptacles installed in all seven states of the Tennessee River watershed, with partners at marinas, campgrounds and businesses maintaining them.
To date, more than 275,000 cigarette butts have been recycled in the seven-state effort, making Dollywood the largest recycler in KTNRB’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program.
“We’re grateful to have such a leader within our watershed and hope their example inspires others to follow,” said Gibi. “We could think of no greater theme park to champion such an effort than Dollywood, who has so successfully married the theme park experience with the stunning setting of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Pigeon River, demonstrating to park visitors each year that our natural assets are both cultural and economic treasures,” said Gibi.
For more information about joining Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program or to join litter cleanup efforts on the Tennessee River watershed, please visit www.KeepTNRiverBeautiful.org.