First-of-its-kind: Dollywood becomes first theme park to recycle plastic from every cigarette butt collected in receptacles on property

(September 1, 2022) – 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 is 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.”

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.

THE IMPACT
Dollywood has now 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.

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. 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 the KAB Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, CLICK HERE.

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Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful is the 1st Keep America Beautiful affiliate in the nation to focus solely on a river. The 501c3 nonprofit aims to rally communities along the river and its tributaries to preserve, improve and protect the river for generations to come. Since forming in 2016, 2,700 volunteers have helped the organization to remove over 415,000 lbs. of trash along the 652-mile Tennessee River and its tributaries. www.KeepTNRiverBeautiful.org

About Dollywood Parks & Resorts: A highly-awarded and widely-recognized leader in the amusement industry, The Dollywood Company consists of the 160-acre Dollywood theme park; the 35-acre Dollywood’s Splash Country; and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. Currently under construction, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort is scheduled for completion in 2023. As unique as its namesake and owner Dolly Parton, Dollywood is the 2010 Applause Award winner, the theme park industry’s highest accolade; winner of 45 Golden Ticket Awards; and recipient of 28 Brass Ring Awards for Live Entertainment (more than any other theme park in the world). The park is located near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was named in 2022 by Tripadvisor as the top theme park in the country. It also has been recognized as a top-three U.S. theme park by USA Today on multiple occasions. Dollywood is open mid-March through early January and offers rides and attractions, shows and crafters authentic to the East Tennessee region. Dollywood’s Splash Country, recognized by the Travel Channel and Tripadvisor as one of the country’s most beautiful water parks, operates from mid-May to Labor Day. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, a favorite of USA Today voters and Tripadvisor reviewers, provides guests with spectacular mountain views and family-friendly amenities next door to Dollywood theme park and Dollywood’s Splash Country. For more information, visit dollywood.com. Operating days and hours vary.

Keep America Beautiful, the nation’s leading community improvement nonprofit organization, inspires and educates people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment. Established in 1953, Keep America Beautiful strives to End Littering, Improve Recycling, and Beautify America’s Communities. We believe everyone has a right to live in a clean, green, and beautiful community, and shares a responsibility to contribute to that vision. The Keep America Beautiful Model for Change – steeped in education, research, and behavioral science – is the cornerstone of Keep America Beautiful. We empower generations of community and environmental stewards with volunteer programs, hands-on experiences, educational curricula, practical advice, and other resources. The organization is driven by the work and passion of nearly 700 Keep America Beautiful affiliates, millions of volunteers, and the collaborative support of corporate partners, social and civic service organizations, academia, municipalities, elected officials, and individuals. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Donate and take action at kab.org.

TerraCycle is an international leader in innovative sustainability solutions, creating and operating first-of-their-kind platforms in recycling, recycled materials, and reuse. Across 21 countries, TerraCycle is on a mission to rethink waste and develop practical solutions for today’s complex waste challenges. The company engages an expansive multi-stakeholder community across a wide range of accessible programs, from Fortune 500 companies to schools and individuals, and has raised over $44 million for schools and nonprofits since its founding more than 15 years ago. To learn more about TerraCycle and join them on their journey to move the world from a linear economy to a circular one, please visit www.terracycle.com. To learn more about joining the Cigarette Waste Free Recycling Program, interested organizations and individuals are invited to reach out to litter@terracycle.com for more information.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a corporate agency of the United States that provides electricity for business customers and local power companies serving nearly 10 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenues from sales of electricity. In addition to operating and investing its revenues in its electric system, TVA provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system, and assists local power companies and state and local governments with economic development and job creation.

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Contact: Abby Turpin, Director of Communications
Keep America Beautiful®
aturpin@kab.org