KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Department of Transportation has given a $180,000 grant to Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful. The grant will be used to host river cleanups and help install preventative infrastructure along the Tennessee River watershed.

“TDOT has been a part of the KTNRB story from Day 1, and is giving us just the kind of boost we need to not only sustain our existing cleanup efforts but to address the litter crisis from the multilayered approach that it’s going to take in order to make true change for our local waterways,” said Kathleen Gibi, KTNRB Executive Director.

KTNRB plans to use the grant to achieve five goals; buy 10 new Seabin devices, purchase storm drain catch nets, support the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, further the Adopt a River Mile/Adopt a Storm Drain Programs and support eight major river cleanups.

Seabin Devices

Seabin devices are essentially large electric skimmers attached to docks that can remove up to 3,000 lbs. of trash and debris from the water in one year. The devices also filter out oils, gasoline, and microplastics from the water.

“This part of the grant is particularly exciting for us because until now, our efforts have been to prevent microplastics,” said Gibi. “For the first time, we now have the opportunity to literally remove them from the river’s waters.”

Through the TDOT grant, 10 new devices will be installed at marinas along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. KTNRB says this will make the largest network of such devices in the United States.

Storm Drain Catch Nets

Storm drain catch nets have been widely used in Australia and essentially look like large, metal netted socks that attach to the end of a storm drain. KTNRB staff will monitor and maintain one catch net in the Knoxville area. They will also find partners to maintain other catch nets on the Tennessee River or its tributaries.

According to the group, experts have found that 80% of the litter in our waterways was originally littered on land, then washed or blown by storms into storm drain systems, streams, and ultimately rivers. Tennessee’s Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter prevention campaign estimates there are 100 million pieces of litter on the state’s roadways at any time.

Cigarette Litter Prevention Program

(Photo via KTNRB)

The TDOT grant will help to support the upkeep of cigarette receptacles installed in Tennessee. Currently, there are 500 cigarette receptacles installed throughout the seven-state Tennessee River watershed. Dollywood currently has 26 receptacles, and 109 receptacles were installed at every campground and marina owned by Tennessee State Parks.

The program then ships the discarded cigarette butts to TerraCycle at no cost for the microfibers of plastic located in the cigarette filters to be recycled into items like outdoor plastic furniture. In the program’s first shipments to TerraCycle, 71,000 cigarette butts have been recycled through KTNRB’s program.

Adopt a River Mile/Adopt a Storm Drain Programs

KTNRB offers free cleanup gear and swag for those in the Adopt a River Mile or Adopt a Storm Drain programs. Right now, 105 miles of the 652-mile long Tennessee River is adopted through KTNRB. The grant will cover the costs of supplies and shipping of packages for the adoptions within Tennessee.

8 River Cleanups

The funds will also be used to bring five 30-foot workboats to supplement KTNRB’s 26-foot workboat during eight river cleanups.

  • October 2021
    • Meigs County, Tenn. on Watts Bar Lake [COMPLETED]
    • 13 volunteers removed 5,584 lbs. of trash
    • Hardin County, Tenn. on Pickwick Lake [COMPLETED]
    • 38 volunteers removed 6,850 lbs. of trash
  • March/April 2022
    • New Johnsonville, Tenn. on Kentucky Lake
    • Paris, Tenn. on Kentucky Lake
  • October 2022
    • Farragut/Lenoir City, Tenn. on Fort Loudoun Lake
    • Soddy Daisy/Chattanooga, Tenn. on Chickamauga Lake
  • March/April 2023
    • Pittsburgh/Jasper, Tenn. on Nickajack Lake
    • Morristown/Bean Station, Tenn. on Cherokee Lake

“The KTNRB team has been rapidly expanding their impact on litter removal from the Tennessee River watershed, having rallied over 600 volunteers to remove 135,000 lbs. of trash from our waterways just in 2021 alone,” said Mike McClanahan, Manager with TDOT’s Highway Beautification Office. “The energized partnerships, passionate volunteers, and growing litter prevention awareness around KTNRB’s work are contagious, as demonstrated in their cleanups held earlier this month.”

To learn more about Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, visit

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