Park Plastic Bottle Bans Work but Remain Few and Far Between
Number of Parks Ending Bottled Water Sales Has Plateaued as Industry Pushes Back
Washington, DC — National parks that have banned sales of plastic water bottles have seen significant cost savings and reductions in their waste streams but only 5% of parks have ended these sales – a number which has remained flat since 2014, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition, a number of major parks which have studied the option are still holding back despite sizeable potential fiscal and environmental benefits.
Disposable plastic water bottles represent the biggest source of trash in parks. Ending bottle sales is a “green” practice the National Park Service (NPS) authorized in 2011, after surmounting opposition from Coca-Cola, maker of the top-selling brand of bottled water.
Last year, the International Bottled Water Association lobbied Congress for a rider forbidding any parks from ending bottled water sales by concessionaires. While that rider failed, the industry group did obtain budget language requiring NPS to report all “data” to justify decisions by parks to ban bottled water sales.
In its report to Congress on March 28, 2016, the NPS identified only 22 parks with bottle bans but found that most of these parks experienced hefty reductions in both their total waste stream and recycling load after going bottle-free, including:
|Arches and Canyonlands National Park||15% total waste stream||25% recycling load|
|Grand Canyon National Park||20% total waste stream||30% recycling load|
|Saguaro National Park||15% total waste stream||40% recycling load|
These cuts were achieved with minimal visitor complaints and often with support of concessionaires. However, these results are tempered by the record in Zion National Park which cut its total waste stream by only 3% and its recycling load by just 6%. The park estimates that 60% of its recycling and 3% of its waste stream still consists of plastic bottles even after its sales ban went into effect in 2013.
“If national parks are to succeed in going green, they will have to kick their plastic habit,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that NPS seems unlikely to meet the 50% system-wide waste reduction goal it set to achieve by 2016, its centennial year. “Discarded plastic is costly, unsightly and unsanitary and is clogging park infrastructure like bad cholesterol.”
But the number of parks moving to end sales of plastic water bottles has stagnated:
- The 22 parks, up from just 18 two years ago, are clustered in just three of the Park Service’s seven regions, with no bottle-free parks in the Pacific West, Northeast or Capital Regions; and
- Several major parks, such as Yellowstone, Golden Gate, Mt. Rainier National and Biscayne have all studied the bottle-free option but none have yet to take the plunge.
“The bottlers’ push for congressional intervention may be deterring superintendents from making an investment in construction of watering stations for visitors,” added Ruch, arguing that Congress should be helping rather than impeding parks in reducing their operating costs. “Without strong national leadership, our parks will continue to drown in waves of waste from rising tides of visitors.”