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National Public Works Week: A Perspective on Waste Collection 
Blue Whale to Human

The largest animal to ever have existed on Earth is still with us today: the blue whale. Weighing in at an average of 150 tons and spanning 100 feet in length, it’s mind-blowing to consider how a blue whale’s massiveness would compare to a human.

In Knoxville’s population of 184,281 humans (2016 census), there is enough waste processed by City Solid Waste to equal 535 blue whales per year.

That’s right—the City of Knoxville’s Solid Waste Office in the Public Service Department processes 80,223 tons of waste each year (includes both public facility and private household waste collection).

Household Waste Collection

Garbage Collection

The waste collection contracts are some of the largest contracts in the City. The garbage and recyclable collection contract the City has with Waste Connections, for example, is roughly $2.9 million per year in a 10-year contract.
With such large numbers—both physically and fiscally—City officials in the Solid Waste Office work diligently each day to make significant reductions.

Just this year, the City was able to shave $2 million off of the household garbage and recycling collection contract by switching to standardized 95 gallon trash carts. By using these new standardized carts at all 57,000 households serviced, the City was able to significantly improve efficiency and safety.

The fact that the new carts have lids also helps reduce litter that would otherwise be blown out of the carts and eventually be washed into Knoxville’s creeks and rivers.

Curbside Recycling

The household solid waste collection contract also includes curbside single stream recycling. Currently, about 42 percent of the City’s households participate in this free recycling service and help to reduce waste that goes to the landfill by 5,533 tons (equivalent to 37 blue whales) annually.

Items accepted in the curbside recycling program include:
  • Plastics: plastic bottles and lids, plastic cups, plastic jugs, milk jugs, detergent containers,
  • all plastic containers #1-7 (#6 Styrofoam is not accepted)
  • Metals: aluminum cans, steel cans, tin cans
  • Paper/Cardboard: newspaper, magazines, junk mail, sticky notes, envelopes(not necessary to remove plastic windows), notebooks, office paper with or without staples and tape, cereal boxes, cardboard, shredded paper (placed in a paper bag to prevent scattered pieces)

Call 311 today to request your free recycling cart and start reducing the waste put in our region's landfills.

Recycling Drop-Off Centers

Drop-Off Center

The City also has recycling drop-off centers that are open 24-7. In 2016, these centers helped recycle 2,333 tons (15.5 blue whales) of waste. The drop-off centers are now the only place to recycle glass.

"We are grateful to City residents for their continued participation in glass recycling," said Rachel Buztler, Solid Waste Manager for the City. "Despite the adjustment, we've seen a significant increase in recycling of separated glass has been and it has been so impressive."

The City’s recycling centers are:

NORTH: Behind shopping center at I-640 Plaza - 4440 Western Avenue
SOUTH: Goodwill at W. Moody Ave. - 225 W. Moody Ave.
EAST: Goodwill at Chilhowee Park - 210 Alice St.
WEST: Goodwill at Cedar Bluff - 341 Parkvillage Rd.
Downtown: Downtown Recycling Center - 227 Willow Ave.

Each recycling drop-off center has a Goodwill Industries attendant present from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. to accept household item donations.

Transfer Station

The City also operates in-house the Solid Waste Management Facility, also known as the Transfer Station. Here, City residents can dispose of larger items like tires (four allowed per person per day), construction materials, demolition debris, and most other materials not permitted in regular garbage collections.

It costs $50 per ton with a minimum fee of $1 to dispose of materials at the Transfer Station.

The Transfer Station receives 33,000 tons (220 blue whales) of waste each year, and officials in the City’s Solid Waste Office work to recycle materials, here as well. In 2016, the City recycled the following from the Transfer Station in specialty recycling:

Scrap metal: 395 tons (2.6 blue whales)
Household Hazardous Waste: 51 tons (0.33 blue whales)
Carpet: 152 tons (1 blue whale)

Downtown and Public Facility Waste Collection

The City recently implemented a recycling program for City parks and downtown spaces. City of Knoxville Public Service crews collect all of the waste collected at these facilities on a regular basis.

Especially with so many parks hosting large sporting events, City officials are hoping park users will use the recycling bins for their water and sports drink bottles.

Yard Waste Collection

Brush Collection

In addition to garbage, the City collects yard waste from the curbs of each household in Knoxville. Set on a two-week cycle between March and October, brush can be placed at the curb in 6’x6’x6’ piles for crews to collect.

Leaves are also collected curbside by City crews November through February, saving residents the hassle of bagging their leaves.

The City turns recycles all leaves and brush collected by turning it into mulch, saving 29,965 tons (equivalent of 200 blue whales) of waste from going to landfill each year.


Right now, the City is able to recycle 38,429 tons (or 256 blue whales) of waste. While these local recycling statistics are commendable, that means there’s still 41,794 tons (279 blue whales) still going to landfill each year.

With 58 percent of households yet to participate in the City’s free curbside recycling program, the most obvious room to grow is here. Please consider calling 311 today to order your free curbside recycling cart and help make a whale of a difference!

Posted by On 26 May, 2017 at 3:40 PM