When teaching Environmental Science I will conclude the year with a garbage unit. Most years some students participate in a litter clean up which has given me a good perspective of litter in Hamilton County. One year my students also made a presentation to the Hamilton County Commission about litter.
I believe that litter, specifically plastic, is the most important environmental issue in Tennessee and the United States as well. Science does not know the impacts of plastics on our bodies when it becomes nano size and possibly can pass through our cell membranes. Besides humans, aquatic life in the Tennessee River, who are visual eaters, will eat micro plastics, fill their gut with material that can’t digest, and die from starvation. This plastic then makes its way to the ocean where it threatens marine organisms also.
Three years ago I got involved with the grass root organization known as Tenncan, which promoted a deposit law for Tennessee. After getting educated on the Tenncan program I did a few presentations to different groups. Student groups were very supportive in that they saw a good method to prevent or clean up litter by putting a value on it. One politician asked me could kids go around and pick up cans and bottles and get the money like was done 50 years ago? I answered “absolutely” and he was very supportive.
During the Tenncan training I watched an interview of a store clerk give her observations of Maine’s deposit program. Her store was right on the New Hampshire border, which doesn’t have a deposit program. The lady said there was no reduction in beverage sales due to one state having deposits and the other not.
I had the opportunity to visit Maine when they were first starting their program which used grocery stores as their return centers. I asked one of the cashiers if there were any issues when people returned bottles and cans to the store. She said it took a little bit more time but she knew the benefits to reducing litter and was happy to be part of the program.
Tennessee CLEAN will increase the availability of plastics for industry to use as a resource for their products. More recycling will mean more industry for Tennessee.
Finally, Tennessee CLEAN will make the state the leader in the Southeast as the most environmentally friendly state. As the program grows and is successful, other states will look to Tennessee as the role model.
_ James S. Watson
About the Author _ Watson has a master’s in environmental education and has taught secondary science for 50 years. He’s run nearly 300 field studies, most with an environmental component.