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Activists Call on National Parks to Stop Selling Single Use Water Bottles

Campaigners from Corporate Accountability International complain of Coca-Cola’s influence in the parks

With their labels depicting pristine pools of spring water near majestic alpine peaks, some people might still be under the illusion that bottled water is somehow superior to plain old tap water. But if you just look here, here, and here, you’ll see that in fact bottled water isn’t safer than tap water, creates unnecessary plastic waste, and costs thousands of times more than what comes out of your faucet.

plastic bottle in pond Photo by Leonard John MatthewsSince bottled water suddenly became popular 20 years ago, they have become a significant burden
on our parks’ trash disposal and recycling systems.

Despite these facts, bottled water is still sold within many of the United States’ National Parks, which should be paragons of sustainability since they are dedicated to, you know, getting people to appreciate the natural environment. In an effort to get the parks to fully live up to their mission, organizers with the group Corporate Accountability International have launched a campaign calling on the parks to stop selling single use plastic water bottles.

The group’s central targets are Yosemite National Park, one of the crown jewels of the park system, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which, since it is located partially in San Francisco, gets some of its tap water from the pristine Hetch Hetchy Reservoir also located in Yosemite.

“Humans for thousands of years have figured out how to get their water from places other than federally marketed plastic water bottles,” David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said last week at a press conference organized to demonstrate support for the ban. “I think we can do better. I look forward to working with all you to reducing our national addiction to plastic water bottles.”

With close to 280 million visitors a year, the national parks are “examples of environmental stewardship,” says Hanna Saltzman, an organizer with Corporate Accountability International. “Yet national parks are in danger of becoming a primary billboard and concession stand for a product that is anything but green — bottled water.”

Since bottled water suddenly became popular 20 years ago, they have become a significant burden on the parks’ trash disposal and recycling systems. A 2010 study by national parks facility managers found that 30 percent of the recycling waste at Grand Canyon National Park came from plastic water bottles. The study noted the parks “use taxpayer dollars to manage the burden of discarded plastic water bottles.”

Hans Florine, a world champion speed mountain climber who supports the ban, says it is unnecessary to sell single use plastic water bottles in national parks, and that he can easily remember a time before water bottles. “It had nothing to do with our enjoyment of the park, whether we could buy bottled water or not,” the climber said at the press conference. “It’s ridiculous that we have to prove that we can operate without bottle water.”

Some national parks and monuments have already stopped selling plastic water bottles. They include Canyonlands and Zion National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. Some parks have begun to earn significant revenue from the sale of reusable water bottles. For example, the Hawaii Natural History Association estimates that it makes about $80,000 a year from the sale of stainless steel water bottles at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Halting the sale of single use plastic water bottles would appear to be a clear win-win: a victory for the environment and for the wise use of taxpayer dollars. But not everyone is pleased with the idea. Coca-Cola, which also produces the water brand Dasani, has tried to stop efforts to prohibit bottled water sales.

In 2011, park officials at the Grand Canyon announced they were going to halt the sale of water bottles. Then executives at Coke, which is a significant donor to the National Parks Foundation, complained about the move and a decision was delayed. After the corporate lobbying became public, the park went ahead and instituted the bottled water ban.

Campaigners at Corporate Accountability International worry that such corporate lobbying could scare other park managers from instituting similar bans. “It’s time for the bottled water industry to stop interfering in the national parks and attempting to paint this eco-unfriendly product green,” says Alyse Opatowski. “We stand with Golden Gate and Yosemite in taking this next common sense step to becoming bottled water free.”

Daniel Adel, Contributor, Earth Island JournalDaniel Adel photo
Daniel Adel, a former Earth Island Journal intern, is studying Environmental Studies, with concentration in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice, at San Francisco State University.

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