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City Crews Work Saturdays to Tackle Litter Eyesores: Expensive Solution, But 'Gratifying' 
A crew of 13 Public Service Department employees spent Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021 cleaning up litter on the sides of Cherry Street and Mall Road. More crews are tackling trash in other parts of the city this coming weekend.

Last Saturday, Manager Kenny Perry and a crew of 12 City Public Service Department employees battled a misty rain, and traffic, to pick up a heaping pile of roadside litter.

They started at 7 a.m., before sunrise, and eight hours later, they'd collected 88 trash bags of litter from Mall Road and Cherry Street.

A vacuum truck sucked up an additional 5,500 pounds of paper debris, plastic bottles, fast-food packaging, and coffee cups and lids.

"Nobody likes picking up someone else's trash," Perry said. "It was really nasty. But it's gratifying to see how it looks when you're done. There's a sense of accomplishment."

A hard day's work: 13 Public Service employees picked up trash last Saturday along Cherry Street and Mall Road.

Manager Kenny Perry: "No one likes picking up someone else's trash It was really nasty."

This coming weekend, more City crews will be back at it, picking up roadside trash citywide.

They do the work on an extra sixth day, for two reasons:

First, unsightly litter is particularly bad right now. There's just so much of it. Complaints from residents are rolling in.

But second, trash pickup is not a part of any City worker's primary job description. If Public Service crews peel off on litter duty, that means other high-priority jobs -- leaf pickup, winterizing facilities and snow removal in the winter, for example, or mowing rights-of-way or maintaining parks in the summer -- get pushed aside.

"Our crews are always happy to help, whenever and however needed," says Public Service Director Chad Weth. "We're aware that litter is a big problem right now, and we will blitz it and remediate at least some of the worst locations. 

"It is expensive, though, to send out crews on a sixth day to tackle this. My hope, first of all, is that people will begin to think before they flip that cigarette butt or coffee cup out the car window into the right-of-way. And No. 2, I'm hopeful that with warmer weather, community groups will contact us and help with COVID-safe cleanup campaigns."

So why is litter such a problem right now?

One aspect is that it's frankly more visible right now, before grasses get lush and trees leaf out. Foliage tends to camouflage some of the ugliness.

But the pandemic is partly to blame. In past non-COVID years, the City has benefited from the help of volunteers and weekend litter crews (typically about 15-20 people on a Saturday). Often, these crews would include people completing court-ordered community service.

But with pandemic protocols in place, the City has been unable to safely transport litter crews in groups by van and manage large-scale cleanups since spring 2020. Individuals have safely performed community service by cleaning roadside areas, but it's a reduced number of participants and total volunteer hours from years past.

The City suggests that people who see problem areas call our 3-1-1 Center for Service Innovation (865-215-4311 if dialing from outside Knox County). There's a growing list of problem locations, and Public Service Department crews volunteer or are assigned to perform cleanups as their time allows.

Community partners such as Keep Knoxville Beautiful and neighborhood groups also conduct cleanups and litter pickups. Contacting these agencies or groups is another option. But calling the 3-1-1 center would get the ball rolling, if people are looking for a way to report what they see.

The cleanup efforts are hard work, but the appeal is apparent. Below are "before" and "after" photos taken Saturday, Feb. 13, of a section of Cherry Street:

Cherry Street, before City cleanupCherry Street, before City cleanup

Cherry Street, after City cleanup

If you see one of these 13 Public Service Department employees, be sure and thank them for working on a rainy Saturday and picking up other people's trash! 

Robert Akins
James Burress
Steve Collins
Jason Eddington
Jamie Edwards
Donald James
Boyd Kitts
Billy Miller
Dennis Miller
Britton Patterson
Kenny Perry
Matthew Watson
Ben Winters 
Posted by evreeland On 16 February, 2021 at 2:52 PM