KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Every year, millions of people travel on Tennessee’s roads and unfortunately leave behind millions of pieces of trash. To better understand the extent of litter on the roads, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Keep Tennessee Beautiful have released their 2022 Tennessee Statewide Litter Study.

“The 2022 study is one of several research products that helps TDOT evaluate progress on litter abatement and make the most effective use of future litter prevention and cleanup resources,” Denise Baker, TDOT Transportation Supervisor, said. “Overall, we learned that in the past six years, there has been a 12 percent reduction of litter on Tennessee roadways. While encouraging, there are still more than 88 million pieces of litter on public roads at any given time.”

The 2022 study follows up on data collected in 2016 and 2006 while building on TDOT’s research to offer insights into abatement strategies and resource allocation. The study also uses results from the 2020 Keep America Beautiful Nationwide Litter Study to find out “how litter has changed over time, determine the relationship between roadside litter and site characteristics, and assess the impact of nearby infrastructure and socioeconomic factors” according to TDOT.

The study’s key findings include:

  • 88.5 million pieces of litter exist on Tennessee roadsides at any given time, down from 100 million in 2016.
  • Intentional litter increased by about 18% due, in part, to changes in product packaging and classification differences between the 2016 study and the 2022 study.
  • The number of cigarette butts observed per site decreased for Interstate and U.S. Highway roadway classifications.
  • Plastic and paper items compose most litter items.
  • Motorists were determined to be the leading sources of litter on Tennessee roadways.

The study also outlined several next steps to take to prevent litter on Tenn. roads. These strategies include expanding the Adopt-A-Highway program, seeking partnerships with entities that manage buses, rest stops, and convenience stores, and targeting messaging to minimize drink containers that become litter.

Overall the goal of future efforts will look to limit the amount of litter that is created while increasing the cost-effectiveness of KTNB and TDOT’s programming. According to the report, collecting litter and addressing illegal dumping costs more than preventing it from being generated.

The study was conducted by the engineering firm Burns & McDonnell. Their goal was to provide a comprehensive understanding of the quantity, composition, and sources of litter along the state’s public roadways. The study randomly selected 120 roadways across Tennessee, equally divided among four types of roads in both urban and rural areas: Interstate, U.S. Highway, State Highway, and Local Roads. The sampling plan also included litter hot spots in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

For those that come across litter while driving in Tenn., call 1-877-8-LITTER (1-877-854-8837) or fill out the online Litter Hotline Form. In Knoxville, litter can be reported in the ‘My Knoxville’ app.