Washington, DC — More than a score of national parks have now banned sales of plastic water bottles with more on the way, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For most parks, disposable plastic water bottles represent the biggest source of trash that parks must pay to haul away, averaging nearly one-third of all solid waste in parks surveyed.
Ending sales of plastic bottle in national parks has gotten off to a slow start due to the influence of Coca-Cola, whose Dasani bottled water is one of the top sellers, on top National Park Service (NPS) officials. In 2010, just days before a long-planned plastic bottle ban at Grand Canyon National Park was to take effect, NPS Director Jon Jarvis blocked it at the company’s behest. Even more significantly, NPS abandoned its plan to end disposable water product sales in 75% of all visitor facilities by 2016.
After PEER exposed the role of Coca-Cola contributions in these actions, Jarvis allowed the Grand Canyon ban to proceed but instituted a new policy, effective December 2011, requiring regional review for future park plastic bottle sale bans. Perhaps due to the controversy, only a handful of national parks adopted bans under the new policy in 2012, its first full year. In 2013, records obtained by PEER indicate that no park that sought a bottle sale ban was turned down and another six parks went bottle-free:
- Colorado National Monument;
- In Texas, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park;
- In North Carolina, the Outer Banks Group;
- In New Mexico, Pecos National Historical Park; and
- In Utah, Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments.
Beyond the 23 parks in 10 states that already do not sell plastic water bottles, California’s Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the most heavily visited national park, and Florida’s Biscayne Bay National Park are both installing water “filling stations” to provide free water to visitors. In addition, Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park indicates it is working on a ban.
“From desert to ocean parks, from remote wilderness to urban enclaves, the drive to remove the blanket of discarded plastic bottles appears to be slowly regaining momentum,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that NPS replaced its goal of a ban on bottle sales at 75% of facilities with a vaguer target that parks cut solid waste streams by half by 2016, the year of the NPS Centennial. “National Parks will be hard pressed to meet the goal of cutting their expensive and un-ecological solid waste load by half without addressing plastic bottles – the single largest source of trash in most parks.”
Records also indicate that strictures in the Jarvis policy are having little effect. For example, Jarvis originally claimed he blocked the Grand Canyon ban for “public safety” reasons and mandated each park conduct a “consultation with NPS Public Health Office.” That office, however, has raised no concerns about any park bottle ban. Similarly, the Jarvis policy required annual surveys of “visitor satisfaction[and] buying behavior” but parks such as San Antonio Missions report that “to date there have been no visitor complaints, or compliments… about bottled water sales, or the lack thereof, made in the park's 2013 Visitor Satisfaction Survey.” Nor does it appear that Jarvis’ requirement that parks with bans undergo annual evaluations is even followed, as NPS could produce no records on the subject.
“Many more national parks would be bottle free if the Park Service provided national leadership,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that an NPS effort to raise a billion dollar corporate endowment by 2016 seems to have given corporate contributors influence over park conservation policies. “Unfortunately, Park Service leadership is focused on soliciting corporate contributions, pitting one type of green against another.”
Scan reports of parks recently banning water bottle sales
Colorado National Monument