National Park Service Punts on Plastic-Free Policies

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Chandra Rosenthal, 

National Park Service Punts on Plastic-Free Policies

NPS Balks on Plastic Bottle Sales Ban or Restoring Superintendent Discretion


Washington, DC —The National Park Service has no plans to act on a petition to ban sales of disposable plastic water bottles, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Nor has the agency reversed the Trump ban on individual park superintendents restricting plastic water bottle sales in their units.    

Biden administration officials have informed PEER and other conservation groups that Interior efforts will be confined to addressing a December 2021 Executive Order creating a government-wide “sustainability” effort designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Consequently – 

    • The National Park Service (NPS) will not act on the PEER-led rulemaking petition phasing out disposable plastic water bottle sales and reducing plastic consumption systemwide by 75%; 
    • Park superintendents remain unable to restrict plastic bottle sales under a Trump-era order that remains in effect; and
    • By placing the elaborate Biden-directed sustainability process as a predicate, little concrete action to reduce plastics in park waste streams can be expected in the near term. 

“The Biden administration’s draft proposal is a recipe for inertia at a time when bold initiatives are needed,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, whose organization spearheaded a rule-making petition seeking to end retail sales of plastic water bottles and reduce plastic waste in national parks.  “If the Park Service will not set standards, it should at least empower its superintendents to pursue park-specific solutions.”   

Today, plastic remains the biggest component of many park waste streams, littering pristine landscapes, adding to park operating costs, and ultimately burdening the environment. However, through lobbying from the beverage bottling industry, national parks are officially precluded from trying to stem rising mountains of plastic wastes that present a growing disposal challenge. 

The Biden sustainability order is directed primarily at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with waste reduction as an expected side-effect. Yet, the sustainability process the Biden order has inaugurated has no specific end-date or guaranteed benefits to parks. 

“There are many actions national parks can begin taking immediately, such as plastic sale bans, without having to wait an extended bureaucratic palaver to conclude,” added Whitehouse, arguing that the administration should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  “The tide of plastic pollution will not be diminished by additional delay.” 


Look at the PEER, GreenLatino & Beyond Plastics petition filed 11 months ago 

Revisit Trump order preventing parks from restricting plastic bottle sales 

View the Biden Sustainability EO 

 Examine the plastic burden on national parks, such as Yellowstone 

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