November 15, 2023
With the Great Smoky Mountains literally at Dollywood’s doorstep, the overwhelming beauty of nature is always top-of-mind for both our park guests and our hosts. It is this natural atmosphere that inspires some of Dollywood’s newest ways to maintain these majestic views for years to come.
Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB) recently was named “2023 Nonprofit Recycler of the Year” by the Tennessee Recycling Coalition for a program launched here at the park. Through the program, approximately 350,000 cigarette butts have been recycled and turned into items like plastic outdoor furniture. That effort is just one of the recycling programs in place here and it operates under the watchful eye of Dollywood’s Grounds Manager, Bobby Johnson.
Bobby has grown the park’s recycling efforts during his tenure and has recently launched his most-ambitious program yet, one that he hopes will see Dollywood reach a goal of ultimately having 100% of its refuse not reach a landfill. Dollywood partner The Coca-Cola Company and Tennessee-based recycling company iSustain are working alongside us to increase recycling efforts to help eventually achieve that goal.
After searching for a recycling partner that could help with the unique needs of the theme park environment, Bobby found Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee-based iSustain. Founded by Dawn and Mark Huber, the company works with companies to identify the best and most effective recycling plans based on a number of factors.
“As a National Recycling Solution Provider for industry, it is exciting to be partnering and helping Dollywood make an impact right here in our home state and our treasured Smoky Mountains,” said Mark Huber, Vice President of Business Development for iSustain, Inc. “Dollywood faces unique recycling challenges due to their expansive property size and the sheer number of guests visiting each day, along with a diversity of waste. Across North America, implementation of creative recycling, zero landfill programs and full circularity solutions is the specialty of iSustain.”
iSustain helped Dollywood source a specialized PET bottle baler to ensure the many collected beverage bottles were baled and ready to sell to companies able to recycle the polypropylene caps and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Additionally, the partnership with The Coca-Cola Company provided more than 65 new recycling bins, which allow a convenient location for park guests to recycle bottles. A Dollywood host sorts through the bottles, removing all contaminants placed into the containers.
“We are proud to partner with Dollywood to bolster recycling and awareness across the park,” said Pete Lucic, Director of Strategic Partnerships & On-Premise for Coca-Cola North America. “Together, our partnership serves as a great example of how we can join forces with our customers to drive sustainability initiatives forward to create real, meaningful change.”
Once the bottles are sorted, they are compacted into 700 lb. cubes by the PET bottle baling machines. iSustain coordinates the logistics and the sale of cardboard and plastics on Dollywood’s behalf to maximize recycling rates and create the best market value. The revenue generated from the cardboard and plastic sales is donated into Dollywood’s Share It Forward, a program which helps employees during times of need.
iSustain arranges transport of the baled recyclables, which may wind up at a number of locations. For example, several shipments have been sent to Dalton, Georgia, for recovery of the PET to be reused in carpeting. The rest of Dollywood’s household garbage and waste is sent to Sevier Solid Waste, Inc. (SSWI) in Pigeon Forge. All organic waste from homes and businesses in Sevier County is composted at the facility, with more than 50,000 tons of compost produced each year.
Growing Dollywood’s recycling effort is something Bobby takes seriously. He studies trends and observes guest behavior daily to determine the most effective solutions to the problem.
“When Big Bear Mountain opened, I was walking in the queue line and noticed a lot of bottles sitting around, because guests couldn’t take them on the ride,” he explained. “We had a number of trash cans but not as many recycling cans in the queue. We put more recycling cans in the lines, and now those fill up faster than most others in the park.”
When the new bottle bundling program started, it took 31 days to have enough bottles to create the first bundle. Bobby says it now only takes about 10 days due to the increased number of recycling cans, thanks to The Coca-Cola Company and the strategic locations of those cans. With momentum moving in the right direction, he remains focused on his overall goal.
“One hundred percent landfill diversion is our ultimate goal,” Bobby explained. “We’re already looking at adding new hosts due to the increase of needs associated with the program. My outlook is that we continue advancing the types of materials we are recycling. Next would be plastic wraps and buckets and move from there. Our next step is to start working with our operating teams to help them determine specific items already in use which may be easily replaced with different items that are compostable or more easily recycled.”
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