The Tennessee Bottle Bill Project

because empties are full of opportunities

Welcome to TennCan, the all-volunteer effort to increase recycling and reduce litter in Tennessee through a 5-cent refundable deposit on beverage containers, with returns to redemption centers. Our name reflects the myriad of opportunities this program will make possible, from generating cash for nonprofits to providing high-quality feedstock to manufacturers. You can help make this happen by signing up for e-mails, adding your name, organization or business to our lists of supporters, or joining the TennCan Action Network to help educate fellow citizens, talk with state legislators or take dozens of other actions, large and small. With your help, TENN CAN do this!

Here are just a few of the good things a well-designed
deposit-return program will do for Tennessee:

Put a big dent in litter

Our surveys show that bottles and cans account for roughly half of Tennessee’s litter volume. (Just ask any deputy sheriff who overseas daily cleanup crews from the county jails.) By eliminating most of this portion of Tennessee's litter stream, TennCan will give us dramatically cleaner roadsides, waterways and public spaces. The proposed legislation also ensures the uninterrupted funding of Tennessee’s existing litter program known as the “county litter grants." 

Photo: Third Creek,
Knoxville, by
Mark Campen

Bottle Drive 9-1.jpg

Raise cash for nonprofits

TennCan will generate millions of dollars for Tennessee's schools, libraries, Scout troops, animal shelters, programs for folks with special needs and countless other community groups and causes, whether through bottle drives and donation bins, or through redemption centers that are owned, operated and staffed by the organizations. Under TennCan, every time you redeem a container, you’ll be supporting your local community as well as a cleaner environment.

Photo: Liverpool (NY) High School Marching Band raised $3,467 in one day  

Amber brown glass beer bottles SMI.jpg

Boost recycling rates

Tennesseans recycle just 10% of the 4 billion-plus beverage containers we consume each year. TennCan will boost that figure to a projected 80%, and it will do so in a way that ensures the most beneficial reuse of each container—even the plastic and glass bottles that are currently hard to market. Why? Because bottle bill material is collected in reliably high quantities that are extremely clean, meaning sorted properly by color, uncontaminated with unlike materials, foreign objects and household garbage.

Photo: Brown glass at a Strategic Materials processing plant in a deposit state

Alcoa sheet.JPG

Support manufacturing

U.S. manufacturers are hungry for the high-volume, high-quality container scrap generated by a bottle bill. And nowhere is that demand so concentrated as right here in Tennessee, home to one of the world's largest aluminum makers (Alcoa) and the Cheatham County plant of the largest glass processor in the United States (Strategic Materials, Inc.), and just across the border from the world's largest consumer of recycled PET plastic: the carpet manufacturers of north Georgia.

Photo: Aluminum
sheet at an Alcoa

This footage was recorded near the Mississippi River in Memphis after a storm event in March 2012. The videographer was “Capt” Vic Scoggin, founder of Save the Cumberland and water quality activist who famously swam the length of the Cumberland River some 25 years ago to call attention to water pollution in the river and in Tennessee. See his website at http://www.savethecumberland.org/

"I continue to be dedicated to this project and will purchase  the first  REDEMPTION CENTER." --Bob Keast, Tennessee River Pearl Farm

"I continue to be dedicated to this project and will purchase the first REDEMPTION CENTER." --Bob Keast, Tennessee River Pearl Farm

Tennesseans on TennCan

"As the owner of a recreation-based business, I know how essential it is to present a vibrant, positive, healthful image to the visiting public. I have invested heavily in making sure my property reflects the outstanding natural beauty of the area that surrounds it. I am sorry to say that my efforts are continually hampered by litter, most of which seems to consist of beer bottles, water bottles, soft-drink cans and other beverage-container debris. ... I respect voluntary recycling and cleanup programs. I myself helped launch the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program back in the early 1970s and currently oversee 60 miles of state highways in litter removal on an annual basis. But having watched the litter problem get steadily worse over the years, I am now convinced that the only way to change littering behavior once and for all is to make beverage containers too valuable to throw away."

--Bob Keast, owner of Birdsong Resort, Marina and Campground in Camden, Benton County,
and founder of America's only pearl culturing site, The Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm, Museum and Tour, in testimony to the Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee, April 2008 

Sure We Can: The Transformative Power of a Nickel

Check out the video below about our friends at the amazing Sure We Can in New York City (video credit: United Nations Environment Programme). If you are involved with a group or agency in Tennessee that works with or advocates on behalf of the homeless or any other special-needs group, please let us know: Together we can make sure similar opportunities open up in Tennessee. Go to our Get Involved or Contact Us page.

Today container deposits are a way of life for nearly 300 million (soon to be more than half a billion) people in nearly 60 states, provinces and countries around the globe. But in 1978, you could count such programs on one hand. Maine was one of them, passing a 5-cent deposit by voter referendum in 1976 (it took effect in 1978). Today, 40 years later, Maine's bottle bill remains the most popular piece of conservation legislation ever enacted in the state, enjoying an 80%-85% public approval rating to match its 85% redemption rate. The program's anniversary is celebrated in the Summer 2018 issue of Habitat, the magazine of the Maine Audubon Society. MAS helped lead the initial referendum victory in 1976—and repeated the process in 1979, when opponents tried to repeal the law. In what is still on record as the biggest referendum turnout in Maine history, the repeal question failed spectacularly, with just 15 percent of voters opting to get rid of the law, and 85 percent voting to keep it.