The Fort Trash

A trash bin in Fort Sanders. With a relatively high student population, the area has trouble keeping up with a consistent litter problem. 

The Fort Sanders neighborhood, located adjacent to UT, is the home of many UT students due to its walkability and close proximity to campus. However, with an area highly populated by college students and therefore partying, the neighborhood is also subject to great deals of pollution.

Random pieces of garbage can be seen strewn across the Fort at any time, and objects range from your average crumpled pieces of paper to whole, in-tact items such as pots, purses and shoes. A stroll through the neighborhood on Sunday morning in particular will result in many sightings of these abandoned objects.

One Instagram account has even made these often unsightly finds into an entertaining media venture. @Fort_Sanders_Artifacts collects photos of found Fort objects through direct message submissions and has amassed over 1,500 followers. Dubbed in its bio as “The best Knoxville garbage content around,” the account features perplexing images of abandoned food, furniture, party decor and more.

2019 UT graduates Jake Keller and Joshua Friday started the account in 2018. Both lived in the Fort for three years during their time at UT — Friday still lives in the area — and had their fair share of encounters with unique trash in the neighborhood.

Friday would often send photos of the items he found over to Keller, and the two eventually realized that there was potential for an account in the so-called ‘artifacts.’ The discovery of an abandoned retainer was actually the catalyst for finally starting the Instagram page.

“It was always an inside joke in our friend group and stuff that the Fort had the most interesting trash, like trash with a story. So we thought it’d be funny if we started collecting that, and so Josh started the account, and we’ve been running it since,” Keller said.

Out of their dozens of posts, the two have a few particular favorites, including an image of nine mattresses stacked on a Scion.

Keller and Friday take an analytical approach to the account, writing detailed captions in an effort to uncover how the items arrived in their unique locations.

“We think before we post it. We want to find out the story behind the trash and how it got there and what transpired for a lot of the items, for them to end up the way they were,” Friday said.

Friday explained that the collection of the odd hodgepodge of items is a phenomenon unique to Fort Sanders.

“It’s stuff that if you saw in any other neighborhood, you'd kind of be taken aback, but if you’ve lived here for a couple years you kinda don’t see it anymore almost,” Friday said.

Keller added that with time, one becomes “weirdly jaded” to even the strangest of items found in the Fort.

“You see something weird and you're like, of course there’s a pair of jeans on a light post,” Keller said.

It seems to be established that trash often congregates in the Fort. But, why is this?

Maryn Miles, a junior studying anthropology with a concentration in disasters, displacement and human rights, is the director of the Student Government Association Environment and Sustainability Committee. She equates much of the overcrowded Fort’s visual and noise pollution to the area’s poor layout and particular demographics.

She explained that Fort Sanders is designed inefficiently, with few parking spaces or trash cans. The lack of easily accessible parking spaces discourages students from recycling. The Fort has few if any recycling bins, so students must haul their recycling out to their cars, which may be parked far away due to the Fort’s layout, and out to the university’s recycling drop-off near Neyland Drive.

Additionally, as Miles explained, many who live in the Fort are simply not invested in the area because they will likely only live there for a short period. This, in conjunction with the fact that the areas’ renters are often still learning to live on their own, creates a lack of care and accountability.

“If you have a lot of students there who aren’t really emotionally invested in the area, they really aren't going to care or feel responsible about long term consequences that come with just the visible pollution and noise pollutions of the area,” Miles said.

Furthermore, a large amount of waste accumulates through the annual moving process, as students move in and out of the area each year. The Office of Sustainability has a hands-on moving program to combat this in university housing, which Miles has participated in, but no such process exists for the off-campus Fort.

“Already you have a neighborhood that’s really overcrowded and is just not properly spaced out for students to dispose of waste in general, but also you have students moving in and out every year which adds a huge amount of waste buildup,” Miles said.

While the Office of Sustainability, sometimes alongside the Environment and Sustainability Committee, has led Fort cleanup days with groups of students, Miles explained that there is only so much the office can do to accommodate an area that is technically off-campus.

Therefore, Miles explained that it is likely necessary for the City of Knoxville to intervene in this situation. She suggests that the city adds more frequent garbage routes in the area, provides additional trash bins and makes recycling more accessible.

Miles explained that Knoxville needs to understand that college students living in the area are still learning to live on their own and may not have easy access to recycling.

“I think that probably the city needs to be aware of the demographics and probably do everything they can to accommodate that,” Miles said.

The pollution in Fort Sanders is more than just an eye sore annoying its residents, however; it may have widespread environmental effects.

Senior and Co-President of Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville Kendall Wimberley, who is majoring in environmental and soil sciences with a minor in sustainability, explained exactly how the pollution reaches other forms of life and areas.

“With how close we are to the river and creeks along the greenways, bottles, cups, fast food containers and more commonly make their way into our waterways. These items can partially or continually breakdown in the water, contributing to the growing issue of microplastics, which make cleaning and treating water more difficult and costly as well as harm aquatic life. These can remain in the water for very long amounts of time, causing problems not just in our local community but wherever the waterways connect,” Wimberley said.

She added that this pollution also directly contributes to climate change.

“Additionally, there are greenhouse gas emissions associated when anything is breaking down. Whether your trash ends up in a landfill or on the side of the road, it is still contributing to the warming of our planet,” Wimberley said.

Wimberley advises that a shift in perspective is imperative to change the pollution situation. For one, she hopes that more education about pollution, coupled with more trash cans in the Fort, is made available.

But, she emphasized that at the end of the day, a change in individual attitudes and responsibility is necessary to keep the Fort clean. This includes educating oneself about recycling and also making the extra effort to hold onto your trash until you can reach a trash can instead of littering on the side of the road.

She asks people to consider how human pollution is affecting the nature of East Tennessee, which so many spend their time enjoying.

“I think the only way to keep the Fort clean would involve people’s attitudes changing and beginning to take even the smallest actions for the environment seriously,” Wimberley said. “We each can take individual actions that either harm or help the environment, and by committing to not furthering the littering and pollution problem and helping clean up what is currently present, we would be on a better path than we are now.”

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