Use less fertilizer on your lawn.

It will grow just as green, but you'll reduce toxic runoff that pollutes waterways.

There is a reason why it's important

Environmental Impacts of Lawn Fertilizer

Fertilizers are used by homeowners to maintain and improve landscape beauty and quality. In recent years, increased use of home lawn and garden fertilizers has caused concern about pollution of lakes and groundwater. Proper fertilizer application can enhance plant growth without polluting the environment. Yet, misuse of fertilizer may not only harm the environment—especially ground and surface water—but may in fact result in injury to landscape plants as well (Rosen and White,1999).

Fertilizers and Fertilizer Ingredients

The two primary fertilizer nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. Fertilizers used in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings contain essentially the same ingredients. Phosphorus and nitrogen compounds are needed by all plants for vigorous growth. In a non-agricultural setting, the impact of fertilizers may seem small, isolated to one lawn or garden. However, the total area of lawns and gardens in urban environments may be significant, creating a cumulative effect that is effectively quite large.


Phosphorus occurs naturally in rocks and other mineral deposits. During the natural weathering process, the rocks gradually release the phosphorus. Phosphorus is one of the nutrients necessary for plant growth. Although misuse or misapplication may pollute lakes, proper application poses no threat of lake pollution, and may reduce pollution possibility. Inorganic phosphorus moves very little in soil, and when applied as a fertilizer it is quickly bound by soil. If not mixed into the soil, phosphorus from lawn clippings and tree leaves left in the streets and gutters is soluble and a potential pollution source. 


Nitrogen is present naturally in soils as nitrate ion, ammonium ion, and as a component of soil organic matter. Ammonium is readily converted to nitrate is all but the wettest and driest soils. Nitrogen generally produces the greatest growth response in plants of all fertilizer nutrients. Unlike phosphorus, nitrogen in its nitrate form is completely soluble and highly mobile in soil. It thus can readily leach downward and contaminate groundwater supplies.

The Effects on Groundwater

Lawn and garden chemicals, such as fertilizers enter the groundwater in two ways. In the first method, the chemicals can enter the groundwater by rainwater into a stream as runoff. This is especially problematic in urban environments where hard-surfaced roads allow rainwater to move over them without benefit of soil acting as a filter. The water in streams replenishes groundwater, so the chemicals are absorbed into the groundwater as well. The second method of contamination is through leaching, which is the downward movement of a substance through the soil. The fertilizer may also dissolve into the surface water, which recharges the groundwater.

Nitrate is highly soluble and readily leaches into groundwater.

Effects on Surface Water

The nutrient phosphorus harms clear, free water by creating algal blooms. This process, known as eutrophication, turns the water green, clouds the water, causes odor problems, and depletes the oxygen for fish and other species, effectively suffocating them

What People Can Do

Other suggestions for slowing this pollution problem down include going straight to the sources. Before fertilizing, people should have their soil tested. It is very important to follow label instructions carefully and mix the fertilizer accurately. When watering one’s lawn after fertilizing, one should not allow the water to run into streets or the lake . One should clean up all spilled fertilizer and never apply fertilizer to the frozen ground. Because clippings contain phosphorus, debris should be removed and not directed into the street. One should be careful not to deposit fertilizer in the lake and when near a body of water leave a buffer zone. Also, fertilizer should be put 4 to 6 inches into the soil. Coring machines are suggested as well as slow release of fertilizer.

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Litter is defined by Tennessee law as perishable animal and vegetable waste, garbage, perishable and nonperishable solid waste and tobacco products.


Section 39-14-503. (a) Mitigated criminal littering is littering in an amount less than or equal to five pounds (5 lbs.) in weight or seven and one-half (7.5) cubic feet in volume. 

  • criminal littering is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of fifty dollars ($50.00)

Section 39-14-504. (a) Criminal littering is littering in an amount more than five pounds (5 lbs.) in weight or seven and one-half (7.5) cubic feet in volume and less than or equal to ten pounds (10 Ibs.) in weight or fifteen (15) cubic feet in volume.

  • littering is a Class B misdemeanor, up to a $500 fine

  • In addition to the penalties established in this section, the court shall require a person convicted under this part to remove litter from the state or local highway system, public playgrounds, public parks or other appropriate public locations for not more than eighty (80) hours. The court, in its discretion, may also a person convicted under this section to work in a recycling center or other appropriate location for any stated period of time not to exceed eight (8) hours.

Section 39-14-505. (a) Aggravated criminal littering is littering:

  • In an amount exceeding ten pounds (10 lbs.) in weight or fifteen (15) cubic feet in volume; or

  • In any amount for any commercial purpose

  •  Aggravated criminal littering is a Class A misdemeanor, except in the following circumstances, in which case it is a Class E felony, up to a $1,500 fine.


Tennessee Toll-Free Litter Hotline

Tennesseans who are tired of trash along state roadways now have a new tool to report litter bugs. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced today a new toll-free litter hotline, 1-877-8-LITTER (877-854-8837). The litter hotline is part of the new statewide anti-litter campaign, StopLitter™. The hotline provides a way for Tennesseans to report people they witness littering along the state’s roadways, such as a person throwing a paper cup or cigarette butt out of a window, or an item falling from an unsecured load.

“The new toll-free litter hotline gives citizens the ability to Stop It,” said TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “Now anyone who witnesses a person littering can report it and trigger action to improve the quality of the environment and the cleanliness of our roadways. Tennessee has some of the best roads in the nation. With everyone’s help, we can have some of the cleanest, too.”

Citizens who witness a litter bug in action can call 1-877-8-LITTER (877-854-8837). Callers will reach a recording that asks them to provide information about the vehicle. The information that will be requested includes:

  • license plate number (Tennessee plates only)

  • type and make of the vehicle

  • day and time the incident occurred

  • location where the incident occurred

  • the type of item tossed or blown from the vehicle

TDOT will mail a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle along with a StopLitter™ car trash bag or portable ashtray and other anti-litter information. The letter is a gentle reprimand reminding the recipient that littering is against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $1500.


Click here for more information.

Click here for a complete list of the TN Litter Laws

Charlene DeSha
Executive Director
P.O. Box 6550
Maryville, TN 37802

© 2016 by Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers