Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

September 2022

Dollywood Takes on Cigarette Waste

Cigarette butts represent an unsightly and pervasive form of litter in most public places, and tend to end up in waterways. Last year, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., partnered with river-cleanup nonprofit Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful on a massive cigarette litter prevention project. This made Dollywood the first theme park worldwide to recycle the plastic from every cigarette butt collected in guest-facing receptacles on its property.

"This is a pioneering step that Dollywood is taking with this project—one that sets an example that our waterways are worth protection and one that is the largest recycling impact of its kind within the Tennessee River watershed," said Kathleen Gibi, executive director of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful.

Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful provided 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 and the American Eagle Foundation.

In gratitude for the continuing impact from Dollywood's efforts, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful gifted two benches made from tightly compressed plastic that came from used cigarette butts. The donated benches have been installed near Dollywood's River Rampage water ride.

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 senior manager of community affairs and strategic alliances. "It is vital for us to maintain this beauty by caring for our natural surroundings."

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. Keep America Beautiful and Keep Tennessee Beautiful provided Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful funding for the cost of the receptacles, estimated around $8,000. Dollywood designed the art wraps to match the theme park's branding.

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.

In total, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful 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 the 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."

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