National Park Service rescinds ban on plastic water bottles – a bad and dangerous policy for wildlife

Plastic pollution – such as shown here in the Grand Canyon prior to the plastic water ban – will likely now become a common scene again.

In what is clearly bowing to pressure from both our infamous, uh, illustrious national leader and lobbying (as with beaucoup dollars thrown at them or the federal agency that oversees it) by plastic bottle manufacturers, the National Park Service has announced it’s lifting the 6-year ban on the sale of plastic water bottles within national parks.

The ban was put in place in 2011 after the tremendous litter problem in national parks from the plastic waste was recognized. At that point, approximately 30 percent of the Parks’ waste came from improperly discarded plastic bottles.

Unfortunately the ban didn’t stop the sale of bottled sweetened drinks on National Park land.

Since the ban took effect, 23 of the Service’s 417 parks have implemented it. Those include some the nation’s most popular destinations like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Mount Rushmore.

Why was the ban necessary? Consider the facts:

Grand Canyon National Park – how much longer will it remain this clean:? Photo by Moyan Brenn

The parks system has done studies that show plastic bottles are among the biggest source of pollution in places like the Grand Canyon. A 2012 report showed that the trails in the Grand Canyon, for example, had largely decreased the amount of tossed plastic bottles after the ban was  implemented. The study did, however, reveal that birds and other animals were still getting plastic chunks of bottle lodged in their throats from shredded or broken plastic litter.

Now the Parks Service has seen fit to disregard a policy that has obviously been working in favor of one that is destructive to both the wildlife AND to the land its chartered to protect.

“It’s a really bad message for the parks to be sending and inconsistent with their mission which is … to protect the resources, and so having plastic water bottles littering the landscape is certainly not consistent with that,” said Sandy Bahr of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club. “The National Parks Service should be showing leadership and setting examples and not taking steps backward.”

These handy hydrating alternatives have been available to hikers in the Grand Canyon and other national parks. They’ve helped greatly reduce plastic waste. Why not keep what works?

The rollback of the policy will become effective immediately, officials said. Parks will still promote recycling of plastic water bottles, and many have worked with partners to provide free water in bottle-filling stations, they said.

But with single serve water bottles readily available for sale, hikers and visitors have no real incentive to be mindful of the environment. Of course some will bring their own eco-friendly water bottles. But there will definitely be the mentality of “why worry about that when you can always buy something at the park,” that so many park visitors will have.

This new policy will definitely bring back a serious problem that didn’t need to happen. Hats off the Park Service for taking two steps backward.

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One Response

  1. During the 2000’s, studies have found 1) the youngest Millennials ages 16-25 were by far the largest purchasers of plastic water bottles and…2) the same group (since the 1970’s to present) most prone or willing to litter/dump solid waste onto public and private properties.

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