Grand Canyon Water Bottle Ban Back On

Reversing an earlier decision, park officials say the move will reduce thousands of pounds of plastic.

Yep, that hike will make you thirsty, but park officials want you to use a drinking fountain instead of buying bottled water. (Photo: B. Holland/Getty Images)
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Discarded plastic bottles along serene park trails have long been lamented by park rangers across the country. In Grand Canyon National Park, it’s become the single biggest source of trash, but a long-awaited ban on in-park sales of individual water bottles is officially about to take effect.

Yesterday’s announcement that the Grand Canyon will eliminate sales of individual water bottles inside the park comes after an eyebrow-raising decision to delay the ban in late 2011 after Coca-Cola (which sells Dasani brand water) donated $13 million to the National Park Foundation. Top parks official Jon Jarvis denied the reversal had anything to do with Coke.

“My decision to hold off on the ban was not influenced by Coke, but rather the service-wide implications to our concessions contracts, and frankly, the concern for public safety in a desert park,” Jarvis told The New York Times in November.

The reinstated bottle-ban will go into effect within the next 30 days, and it's impact will be immense, says Susan Collins, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute. “The remoteness of the Grand Canyon means that the collection costs of all those bottles in the park has to be significant, particularly when you compare it to collection efforts done in an urban area,” she says.

In December, an official plastics policy issued by Jarvis means other national parks are likely to follow suit.

The new ban on in-park sales doesn’t mean visitors can’t bring in their own bottled water. It just means there’s a shift in emphasizing more eco-friendly options, including water stations for refilling reusable water containers located throughout the park.

“We’re not policing people,” National Park Service spokesperson Shannan Marcak tells TakePart. “We’re trying to exemplify an environment of responsible behavior. Make the choice to use reusable bottles, and if visitors buy them outside of the park and bring them in, we ask that they give some thought to recycling those bottles.”

A similar ban in Utah’s Zion National Park in 2008 resulted in the elimination of a whopping 60,000 plastic bottles in the program’s first year. Marcak says that unlike Zion, they don’t have a bottle estimate for the Grand Canyon because multiple concessionaires haven’t tracked numbers in the same way, but says waste associated with disposable bottles is estimated to be 20 percent of the park’s overall waste stream and 30 percent of its recyclables.

It’s still just a drop in the proverbial water-bottle ocean however.

According to Collins, there are 35 billion PET plastic drink bottles produced in the U.S. each year. And of those? Only one in five is recycled.

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