Well, this is a blog topic I never thought I would be writing about. Let’s talk about trash. Yes, you read that right. Now 90% of you will probably leave this page right now wondering why I’m talking about trash. But for the other 10%, read on to learn how Sevier County, Tennessee, is home to one of the best composting and recycling programs in the world. I’ll tell you a little about how this ties to Dollywood in a bit.
First, let me explain how it works. I was lucky enough (if lucky is the correct word to describe walking around a large composting facility) to visit the facility a few years ago to learn more about the process.
The Sevier Solid Waste Composting Facility opened in 1991 and became one of the first in the world to use large rotating drums to break down trash into compost. In fact, it is still one of just around a dozen of these facilities in the world. Because of these rotating “digesters,” Sevier Solid Waste (SSW) currently is able to send around 70% of incoming waste to composting and recycling, minimizing the amount ending up in landfills. And I just learned that SSW is working on a new even more advanced recycling system that will increase the recycling rate to be around 79%. That includes everything that goes into the compost plant, then goes into the new recycling facility – it should be up and running soon!
SSW accepts waste from Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Sevier County and Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the facility. All of the waste is mixed with bio-solids and put into the digesters for three days. During this process, anything organic, including food and paper, becomes compost.
Conveyer belts move the compost to large sifters, where inorganic and recyclable items like plastic and glass are removed from the compost. The recyclable items are then, you guessed it, recycled! That is one reason why you won’t find recycling bins inside Dollywood. Sevier Solid Waste removes all recyclable materials once the composting process has begun. The only items required to be separated are construction and demolition materials, electronics and tires.
Interestingly, we are asked to separate cardboard for recycling. Instead of including the cardboard as compost (since it is a paper product), the county is able to resell the cardboard to help offset operating costs. A separate building at the facility holds the cardboard until it is sold.
After the compost is thoroughly sifted, it is placed in windrows (not windows, windrows!) where it continues breaking down. After several weeks, it is sifted once more. The final product is Grade A compost. The facility produces more than 70,000 tons of compost each year. Sevier County residents can get bags of the compost for free to use at home, and local farmers also use the compost for their fields.
We’re very lucky to have a facility like this here in Sevier County, as it puts us in the forefront of recycling and taking care of our environment nationwide. With the beauty of the Smoky Mountains at our doorstep, it is important to maintain the quality of our surroundings the best that we can. SSW also partners with Keep Sevier Beautiful, a program that began in the early 2000s as a way to educate residents and visitors about the importance of maintaining the natural beauty we’ve been blessed with in the Smokies.
When I moved here, I never thought a facility like this existed, let alone made such an important and lasting impact on the community it serves. SSW has fine-tuned the system since 1991 and now helps other communities answer questions about how they too can develop these facilities. Now, since you were one of the 10% who stayed to read this blog, aren’t you glad you did?