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A Water Bottle Story

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Photo Credit: CafePress.com

Should the United States National Parks Service ban the use of disposable water bottles as a means to save money and protect our national parks? Yes may seem like an obvious answer but the banning of disposable water bottles has actually become a controversial issue.

It all started in January 2010 when an internal memo circulated the National Parks Service saying that the ban of disposable water bottles would reduce waste, cut recycling costs, and save electricity. The memo, by Shawn Norton, who works on climate change and sustainability issues for the National Parks Service, stated that if the ban was enacted in 15 parks there could be a savings of 18 million kilowatt hours per year. Many of the National Parks, including Grand Canyon National Park, were interested in instituting the water bottle ban.  According to 5 Gyres, a research organization whose work focuses on the global impact of plastic pollution, one third of the waste in America’s National Park is from water bottles.  In preparation for the ban, Grand Canyon National Park spent almost $300,000 installing 10 water-bottle filling stations throughout the park. But in December 2010, 2 weeks before the ban would have began, National Parks Service Director, Jon Jarvis, called off the ban.

Not until November 2011, when an email by Jon Jarvis was obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), did the issue come back into the limelight. Turns out Jarvis had supported the ban but was worried that “there are going to be consequences, since Coke is a major sponsor of our recycling efforts”. Upon finding that the banning had been canceled due to corporate influence, 5 Gyres started a petition on Change.org urging the National Parks Service to move forward in the ban .  The petition currently has over 100,000 signatures.

Finally on December 14, Jarvis released a directive addressing recycling and the reduction of disposable plastic bottles in parks. Though the directive expressed concerns, it also states that parks that want to implement the disposable water bottle ban can if  they first  follow certain guidelines. They must complete an analysis of the waste being eliminated and  the effects on concessionaire’s revenues, as well as work with the parks health office to make sure all health issues are addressed. 

Grand Canyon National Park was not the first park to attempt to instate a disposable water bottle ban. In 2009, Zion National Park instated a water bottle ban and cut waste by around 5,000 pounds. Hawaii Volcano National Park also instated a disposable water bottle ban and instead sold reusable water bottles and raked in $80,000 in profits showing that  National Parks can still be profitable even if they institute a water bottle ban.

Next time you take a trip to a National Park make sure to  leave your bottled water at home. Our National Parks are some of America’s greatest treasures and by opting to use resuable water bottles versus the disposable kind you are making a decision to keep them healthy and beautiful.

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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