Composting In Sevier County

Living at the front door of the most-visited national park in the country provides us with an amazing view of nature’s overwhelming year-round beauty. Both Dollywood and Sevier County, Tennessee, have developed a number of initiatives aimed at reducing our footprint on the Smokies to ensure that beauty remains for the millions of guests that visit each year.

Chief among these initiatives is the Sevier Solid Waste Composting Facility. Opened in 1992, the facility is home to one of the best composting and recycling programs on the planet. It was one of the first in the world to use large rotating drums to break trash down into compost, and it is still one of just around a dozen of these facilities in the world.

Because of these rotating drums or “digesters,” Sevier Solid Waste (SSW) is able to send around 60% of incoming waste to composting and recycling, minimizing the amount ending up in landfills (as noted on the sticker of the trash can you just visited). With the recycling of cardboard, the total of incoming waste diverted from landfills is 70%.

For comparison, San Francisco—which leads the country in recycling efforts—is able to divert 80% of waste from landfills. According to the same CNBC article, New York has a recycling rate of 21%, while Chicago has a rate of around 10%.

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.

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.

Additionally, Dollywood has a number of sustainability efforts aimed to reduce our effects on the Smokies. First, we work with our partners at TVA to study energy consumption and determine the most efficient ways to operate the park in terms of energy use.

As part of this effort, we are working to replace roofs on buildings throughout the park to a white rubber membrane which helps reflect light and hold in cool or warm air depending on the season. Throughout the park more than 750 light fixtures and more than 5,000 light bulbs have been changed to LEDs. Additionally, all of the Christmas lights (5 million!) used during our Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana have been converted to LED. Just think of the energy savings!

To minimize our effect on forests, 35,000 sq. ft. of wood have been converted to Sintra and Starboard, products made of composite materials. Tankless water heaters are now in use at nearly a dozen Dollywood restaurants, and 229 tons of HVAC units throughout Dollywood have been converted to newer energy efficient models.

As a visitor here, you certainly understand why we feel the Smokies are so special. Rest assured, we are always working to find new and innovative ways to ensure this special place is around for generations to come. Thank you for helping us accomplish this.