Woman dropping a coffee cup on the ground

Litter is ugly and unsanitary. It lowers property values and is expensive to clean up. The State of Tennessee spent $19 million to clean up litter in 2021, and the United States government spent over $11.5 billion. DON’T LITTER!!

Litter. You either do or you don’t. Most people who litter do so all of the time. They either don’t know or don’t care about disposing of their garbage properly. There is never a good reason to throw garbage out the car window or to leave it lying on the ground. Food waste is litter, too, and attracts animals to the side of the road, which can endanger both the animals and those driving on the road.

Litter is unsanitary. It’s ugly and difficult to clean up. Litter collects water and provides the perfect conditions to raise mosquitoes. Litter decreases the number of tourists visiting our county, which decreases the amount of money our county derives from tourism. Litter decreases property values and can cause blight in a whole neighborhood or community. Areas in our community with increased litter also have a correlating increase in crime.

Federal and state funding pays for local crews that clean litter in our community almost daily. Many who work in these crews are volunteers. In addition, volunteers from the community spend their free time helping to keep litter in their neighborhoods and communities cleaned up. Despite their best efforts, they are frequently not able to keep up with all the litter that accumulates. Some roads are so dangerous that crews are not able to clean them unless they are shut down by a police escort. So...more and more litter accumulates, making the drive unsightly.

There are laws against littering. Unfortunately, most people who litter are not very concerned with getting caught. It’s just what they do, and most don’t realize it is the wrong thing to do. Individuals who litter can be fined $50. Individuals who litter 10 lbs. or more can be fined $500. Businesses that litter instead of disposing of their garbage properly can be fined thousands of dollars and spend time in jail. Putnam County now has a litter officer who investigates litter and illegal dumping.


The Putnam County Solid Waste Department Education Program is funded through the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Litter Grant. REDUCE • REUSE • RECYCLE • COMPOST & DON’T LITTER!!

  • Crumbled paper by the side of the road
    don’t litter

    When walking, hold onto waste until you reach a trash container. When driving, use a litter bag in your vehicle. Keep recreational sites clean. Clean up the spot you used and pick up any litter that was there when you arrived. Secure all household waste in a tied plastic bag. Keep yards, sidewalks and curbs clean. Keep dumpster areas clean. Remember: It is the law to secure your cargo and tarp your truck on the way to the convenience centers to prevent litter. Read the Tennessee litter law.

  • Woman testing water in a stream
    protect our watershed

    Please do not dump cleaners or chemicals on the ground. Do not dump anything in storm drains or sewers. Protect our watershed from pollution. 

  • Two full recycling bins
    know the law

    This photo was taken at one of the city drop-off sites. Residents who dispose of their garbage in this way can be fined $50 to $500, depending on the weight of the garbage. Garbage belongs in a garbage can. Recyclables belong in the recycling bin. Read the Tennessee litter law.

  • Group of kids holding tools to clean up litter

    These children have attended Waste Management Camp for several years. They clean up litter at Cane Creek Park every summer and learn to manage their garbage through recycling and composting.

More Information

Illegal Dumps

Illegal dumps plague every county in Tennessee. Thousands of miles of roads weave over scenic hills and through valleys in the countryside. Keeping eyes on the distant vista allows one to appreciate the beauty and lush growth in summer and the beautiful colors in the fall. A closer look over the side of a hill in the winter shows a different scenario. Appliances, tires, bagged and loose garbage, and furniture collect — usually where there is enough room for a truck to pull over and push these items over a hill into a ravine.  

Illegal dumping is the result of individuals who do not care about the environment and are not concerned with disposing of their waste properly. Some people do it because that is how their parents and grandparents managed waste. Because they have always done it that way, they do not consider an alternative. Sometimes, when people do manage their waste properly, they are assessed a fee. The attitude is, “Who wants to pay to throw garbage away?” Many people who dump in the community don’t realize they are fishing and swimming in the garbage they threw away upstream and that it pollutes their own drinking water.  

Although there are laws against illegal dumping, enforcement is difficult. Dumping is a crime that is committed randomly and quickly and is not considered to be one of the “important” crimes that require investigation. Fines can be assessed in the thousands of dollars depending on the weight of the garbage that is dumped and whether the garbage is from an individual or a business.

It has been noted that there are more illegal dumps where there are fewer convenience centers because many people don’t want to waste the gas or time to travel to one to dispose of their trash. Frequently, dumping occurs on Sundays, when convenience centers are typically closed. Some smaller convenience centers do not accept furniture or appliance waste, and this encourages residents to dump it into their own communities.

Illegal dumps are hard to clean up. Sometimes it takes a tow truck and a wench to haul materials up a hillside. It takes money and a lot muscle to clean up an illegal dump. When tires are pulled out of a ravine, it costs the county a minimum of $1 to dispose of each tire. Appliances can leak freon into the environment. Household trash can pollute soil, air and water as it is dispersed throughout the countryside by animals, wind and water.  

Illegal dumping is not just a problem in the countryside; it is also a huge problem at the city recycling drop-off sites, in vacant lots and along city roadsides. Illegal dumping is littering, and laws exist to punish those who litter. Littering lowers property values; decreases the amount of money our community can derive from tourism; pollutes the air, soil and water; and is unsanitary and unsightly. Illegal dumping is easily preventable by simply utilizing the convenience centers the county provides for all county and/or city residents.