In the city of Tullahoma, TN, residents make it clear that sustainability and taking ownership in the community is a large part of what it means to live in this unique city.

By Alle Crampton

The sign on the highway says, “Welcome to Tullahoma, Tennessee, A City As Unique As its Name.” Visitors to Tullahoma will readily understand why that is on the sign: The 18,655 residents have partnered with local government to implement several ambitious sustainability initiatives that improve health and fitness, local green space and, very importantly, the city’s finances.

Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee is a driving force behind the city’s sustainability initiatives. Mayor Curlee firmly believes that, “A great Tullahoma is intentional, not accidental.” He hopes that people will intentionally relocate to Tullahoma because of what it has to offer. Mayor Curlee is serving his fifth term, and remains as dedicated and determined to making Tullahoma a “world-class city” in 2016 as the day he first took office.

He plans to drive his vision of an intentional city “by creating a community where young families flourish. Young families want to be in an artsy, green, fit community where kids have fun things to do.” As part of his effort to make Tullahoma number one, Mayor Curlee brings new initiatives to the table every year, many of which are focused on environmental stewardship.  Two of Tullahoma’s larger environmentally-related initiatives that have gained traction are Go Green! Tullahoma and Get Fit! Tullahoma. Both were introduced in 2013 and provide the foundation for new initiatives planned for this year, such as the construction of new greenways and exercise trails, residential composting and the opening of an arboretum.

Sustainability Through Recycling, Composting and Litter Pick-Up

The Go Green! Tullahoma initiative seeks to create a community that is clean and operates in an environmentally friendly manner. Part of the way that this has been accomplished is through a partnership between the Go Green! Tullahoma Board and Public Works, who together have increased the number of households recycling from around 20 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2014.


Recycling is promoted on television commercials that air on several local stations that broadcast in Tullahoma and adjoining counties. Stickers that say “Think Before You Toss – Landfills Cost, Recycling Pays” are stuck to curbside garbage cans, also helping to advertise the program. The sticker slogan was created by students on the Green Team at Tullahoma High School.

The City of Tullahoma processes all of the recycling for the City of Manchester and Coffee County, which amounts to about 5,000 tons of materials annually. The program has recently been able to expand the types of materials it is able to process because of the purchase of a new baler for the recycling center, funded through a grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. This baler has enabled curbside collection of Nos. 3-7 plastics.

In Tullahoma, curbside recycling is free to all residents and businesses. Residents don’t have to buy or rent specific recycling bins in order to participate, and can use whatever type of container they may happen to have, from old clothing hampers to plastic bags. The only rule is that it has to be separated into paper, cardboard, plastics, aluminum and steel. Glass, leaves and brush, which are not generally accepted at recycling centers in Tennessee, are accepted at Tullahoma’s center.

Wayne Limbaugh, Tullahoma’s Director of Public Works, also provides Tullahoma’s businesses with creative solutions to make recycling easier and as inexpensive as possible. To help businesses reduce recycling costs, Limbaugh suggests businesses collect cardboard in dog pens. This eliminates the need to purchase or rent expensive collection bins. Public Works provides these dog kennels, free of cost, paid for in part by another grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Recycling is financially beneficial for the city, and Public Works sees the most revenue generated by cardboard. Since the start of the Go Green! Tullahoma initiative, cardboard collection has jumped 100 tons in one year to 1,632 tons total. That means those 1,632 tons provided just over $159,000 in revenue in 2015.

Additionally, the local landfill tipping fee has recently increased from about $32 per ton, which amounts to more than $377,000 annually, to $48 per ton. This provides Public Works with further motivation to encourage residents to actively participate in recycling to divert materials away from the landfill. This diversion is also good for Tullahoma residents’ wallets, reducing the need to raise taxes to pay the increased tipping fees.


Recently, Tullahoma has begun to promote composting as an additional way of diverting material from the landfill. Annie Clements, a longtime resident of Tullahoma, has been at the forefront of the city’s composting efforts. She has experience with composting, having been successful with a composting project at the Arnold Engineering and Development Complex. She’s been familiar with composting for a long time; she first received a free composting bin from Tullahoma almost 20 years ago, as part of an effort that never really took off.

Beginning in 2015, the city is once again offering home composting bins, but more people seem to be catching on this time. According to Limbaugh, “A total of 150 residential composting bins have come in, and 87 of them have been claimed.” These bins allow residents to compost food scraps and yard trimmings at home. The compost can be used as an additive for lawns, nutrient-dense soil for gardens, and for mulching purposes. He expects residential composting to become more popular, and, ultimately, to be a sustainable way for Tullahoma to reduce the amount of food scraps entering the waste stream. Public Works plans to work toward encouraging restaurants to participate in the composting efforts.

Litter Pick Up

Local residents have been pleased to participate in these greening efforts, and are even quick to participate in litter pickup events, which are held regularly. Stars on street signs signify where groups participated in quarterly events. Public Works also assists with the litter pickup and cleans up litter on major roads using an all-terrain vehicle. Recently, a litter pickup event was held at Rock Creek, and around 85 volunteers showed up to participate. More than 2.5 tons of trash was removed from the area, which helped to beautify a part of a greenway that runs along Rock Creek.

Tree City USA

Tullahoma puts significant effort into local beautification and green space enhancement, which includes striving to meet the standards to become a Tree City USA Community 18 years in a row. This means that Tullahoma has a tree board, a tree-care ordinance, a community forestry program with annual expenditures of at least $2 per capita, and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. This improves the overall health of Tullahoma by decreasing airborne dust and particulate matter, increasing water conservation and wildlife habitat, increasing property values, and decreasing local energy usage because trees shade homes during the hot summer months when air conditioning bills are high. The Tree City USA projects have culminated in the creation of an arboretum at East Park with more than 30 species of labeled trees. The new arboretum was funded through a $2,500 Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program grant, with an additional $2,500 provided by the city. That money was used to purchase and plant the 30 trees. Eleven additional trees were donated by the Noon Rotary Club as well as an individual donor.

Wellness and Sustainability

Tullahoma’s outdoor enhancement projects tie in well with another one of their successful initiatives: Get Fit! Tullahoma, which promotes health and fitness within the community. Get Fit! Tullahoma connects wellness with sustainability through the support of projects such as the development of new greenways, a disc golf course and installation of playgrounds in the city’s 600-plus acres of parks.

Tullahoma Parks and Recreation manages the Sunrise Rotary Disc Golf Course, which shares space with the arboretum at East Park. The course consists of 18 lush, wooded holes. The disc golf course opened in September of 2013, and continues to be an attraction for families that want to have fun while getting exercise. Tullahoma Parks and Recreation also maintains the city’s 11 parks and recreational areas, which include beautiful Short Springs Nature Trail, the Imagination Station and an outdoor classroom. One of their next projects will be the expansion of the greenway that runs alongside Rock Creek. The Rock Creek Greenway currently offers an eight foot wide, ADA compliant walking path with bridges, benches and picnic tables.

The support of Tullahoma’s Mayor, Public Works Director and residents make it clear that sustainability is a large part of what it means to live in this unique city. Most importantly, these initiatives make Tullahoma a great place to live, and a place where people want to live. “The more people who are involved, the better it’s going to be. We need to take ownership of the community,” said Mayor Curlee. “If you see litter, pick it up. Take ownership in the community and I guarantee the community will benefit from it.” | WA

Alle Crampton is an Environmental Specialist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Office of Sustainable Practices. Alle’s prior experience includes composting agricultural waste, bio-repository efficiency and animal science.  Alle became interested in sustainability in college. Since starting her career with the state, she has developed an interest in reducing food waste. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Agriculture, as well as a Masters in Agriculture.  She received her undergraduate degrees and her Masters from Western Kentucky University. Alle can be reached at (615) 253-1729 or via e-mail at [email protected]

Aluminum Cans
Bales of aluminum cans.
Plastic Bottles
Bales of plastic bottles.
Cardboard being dumped and prepared for the baler.
Collection Pens
Dog pens that companies use to collect cardboard.