National Parks Go Toe-to-Toe with “Big Water” Over Plastic Bottle Waste

Snowed under by an avalanche of empty plastic bottles, in 2011 National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis told the system’s 408 parks, national monuments and historic sites that they could stop selling bottled water at their concession stands and offer public water bottle filling stations instead.

According to Jarvis, the environmental impact of single-use plastic bottles made from petrochemicals and shipped around the world is incompatible with the Park Service’s goal to be a responsible steward of nature. Plastic bottles make up an estimated one-third of all garbage in the parks. And national parks—especially in remote areas—pay a pretty penny to remove and recycle all that plastic waste. The policy doesn’t prohibit guests from bringing in their own disposable water bottles; it simply makes them unavailable for purchase at the parks.

Nineteen parks have signed on so far, including some of the biggest names: Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches and Zion national parks and Mount Rushmore National Monument. Zion National Park was the first to buck the bottle, and since then the park has eliminated the sale of 60,000 plastic water bottles, which equates to 5,000 pounds of plastic waste avoided.

The only group up in arms about the new bottle policy is the $13-billion-a-year bottled water industry, represented by the International Bottled Water Association, whose members include Figi, Evian, Nestlé and Glacier Springs. According to the Washington Post, the association has spent about $510,000 to lobby members of Congress since 2011.

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