Keep Tennessee Beautiful (KTnB) is an Extended Programs department of The University of Memphis sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) with funds from special taxes levied on malt beverage and the soft drink industries (57-5-201 and 67-4-402). Since 1983, KTnB has served as the state resource center for litter prevention, community greening, and recycling & waste reduction education.
KTnB was founded as Clean TN Program by Edith Heller in 1983. Throughout the 1980s the message of KTnB was “Litter Prevention rather than Litter Pick-Up”. In 1986, TDOT funded the classic KTnB “Frog Pond” video and K-6 Curriculum for all public and private schools. In 1988, the state of Tennessee became an official Keep America Beautiful (KAB) state affiliate. The first statewide KTnB Advisory Council was created by the Governor's office in 1989; the year 10 KAB System affiliates joined the network. That year, the organization also changed its name from Clean TN Program to Keep TN Beautiful.
KTnB continued to evolve in the 1990s, as the message of KTnB became “Integrated Solid Waste Management”. KTnB served as an education advocate on the roundtable for the Tennessee Solid Waste Management Act of 1991. In 1992, Tennessee became the first state in history to receive permission to distribute the EPA Curriculum “Garbage Gremlin” to all public and private middle and high schools within the state. KTnB advocated for TDOT’s Litter Grant Program to require 15-30% of the funds go towards litter prevention education in 1993. Over the next two years, KTnB produced a Litter Grant education manual, complete with software and training for TDOT.
In 1996, KTnB documented a then record $1.8 million free radio PSA time. During 1997, KTnB assisted Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) with the creation of the “Pathways: Solid Waste Education Action Plan” manual. By 1997, KTnB had helped form five Environmental Courts.
Today, there are 7 environmental courts in Tennessee. Many of these courts are modeled after the Memphis/Shelby County Division 14 Environmental Court, presided over by The Honorable Larry Potter, which was foundedin 1983. The Memphis/Shelby County Division 14 Environmental Court pioneered the use of community courts, which address problem properties on the street level. Since 2001, the court has heard cases brought under the Abatement of Nuisances Statute. Under this authority the court has ordered the closings of crack houses, strip clubs, apartment complexes, and other entities deemed to constitute a public nuisance. Since 2007, the court has heard cases violating the Neighborhood Preservation Act, which addresses substandard vacant buildings that have become public nuisances.
1998 brought a name change: Keep TN Beautiful became Keep Tennessee Beautiful. It also brought a new message from KTnB: “Public and Private Partnerships”. This included the Covered Loads=Clean TN Roads campaign, source reduction mascots Les and Lotta Stuff, and the “Back by Popular Neglect” television PSA. In 1999, KTnB again worked with TDEC to produce the “Buy Recycled” video for counties and Waste Not-Want Not-brochure for every Tennessee household.
KTnB entered 2000 with the message “Tennessee Looks Good to Me”. The first statewide Great American Cleanup™ (GAC) was also held in 2000. GAC is sponsored by KAB and is the nation’s largest annual community improvement program. Nashville’s Happy Birdsong received the KAB Mrs. L.B. Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2000 KAB National Conference.
KTnB updated its message yet again in 2003, as it began to promote “Citizen Responsibility and Action”. The 2004 GAC in TN saw 464,135 volunteer hours during the annual spring event.
In2005, radio PSAs surpassed $5 million in free air time. The TDOT/KTnB Awards of Excellence (AOE) competition had 34 categories and gave out $40,000 in local grants during the 2005 KTnB Biennial State Conference. The AOEs, which began in 2001, is held every two years and celebrates the best of the best for leadership in volunteer participation. Tennessee once again participated in GAC, as the state totaled over 400,000 volunteer hours. Fifty-five percent of Tennessee KAB affiliate coordinators earned a certificate in volunteer management from CNM/Vanderbilt through KTnB sponsored courses. Thirty-two national awards were won by KTnB and its affiliates at the 2005 KAB National Awards.
During the 2006 GAC a total of 338,000 volunteer hours were tallied by Tennesseans. KTnB worked with The University of Memphis in 2006 to complete the Tennessee Public Attitudes about Litter Statewide Survey (a follow-up study was completed in 2008). That year, the first comprehensive litter prevention advertising campaign in 30 years began with StopLitter™ Tennessee’s Had Enough. The 2006 KAB National Conference brought about more success for KTnB, as Memphis/Shelby County Environmental Court Judge Larry E. Potter also received the KAB Iron Eyes Cody Lifetime Achievement Award ,and all 25 TN KAB affiliates received national President’s Circle Awards.
In 2007, KTnB became the first state in the U.S. to achieve 100% county participation during the Great American Cleanup. Since 2007, KTnB has achieved 100% participation every year. Tennessee is the only state in the nation to accomplish this feat.
Not to be outdone in 2008, KTnB became the first state to total one million participants during GAC. Later that year, KTnB received 33 awards during the 2008 KAB National Conference, highlighted by Nashville’s Russell Brecheen Jr. receiving the Iron Eyes Cody Award.
KTnB began 2009 by celebrating its 25th anniversary. Also in 2009, KAB chose Nashville to host one of three GAC spotlight events on May 14, 2009. Over 800 volunteers from across the state gathered in Nashville and participated in several different cleanup events across the city.
In November 2009, America Recycles Day (ARD) in Tennessee became an annual fall event, as KAB took over ARD with the backing of national sponsors Nestle Waters and the American Chemistry Council. KTnB and the Tennessee Recycling Coalition began sponsoring ARD throughout the state. KTnB once again won 33 awards at the KAB National Conference. Edith Heller retired in 2009 after 26 years of service to KTnB.
Sutton Mora Hayes was hired in May 2010 as KTnB’s second executive director. That fall, Tennessee was one of only five states in the nation to host over 100 ARD events during the 2010 ARD in Tennessee. At KAB’s National Conference, KTnB took home 28 awards.
In 2011, Tennessee again hosted over 100 events during that fall’s ARD in Tennessee. KTnB earned 31 awards at the 2011 KAB National Conference.
KTnB currently has 24 KAB affiliates, and over 70 non-affiliate partners that help spread the vision for a clean, green, safe Tennessee.