You are here

NPS Director Jarvis Allows Parks To Ban Disposable Plastic Bottles


Those seemingly ubiquitous disposable plastic bottles, the ones that generated a storm of controversy over their proposed ban at Grand Canyon National Park, may now be banned by park superintendents nationwide.

But first superintendents must conduct a somewhat arduous series of extensive studies (see attached) that include, among other things, review of the amount of waste that could be eliminated from the park; the costs of installing and maintaining water filling stations for visitors; the resulting impact on concessionaire and cooperative association revenues, and; consultation with the Park Service's Public Health Office.

Then, too, they must consider "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors can find water filling stations. Also, they need to take into consideration safety considerations for visitors who might resort to drinking water "from surface water sources with potential exposure to disease" or who neglect to carry enough water with them on hikes.

Notice of Director Jarvis's decision on banning the bottles came Wednesday in a directive sent to all regional directors, who in turn distributed the policy memo down the line.

"Sustainability is a signature effort for the National Park Service. We must be a visible exemplar of sustainability, so it's important that we move our sustainability program forward as an organization. While superintendents need some discretion to tailor implementation to local situations, it is not the purview of any one park to set policy," wrote Director Jarvis.

The directive comes little more than a month after the director was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. According to a string of documents and emails obtained by Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility, Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff.

At the time, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of such a ban. For instance, they said at the time, how might the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands be impacted by a ban?

“Jon Jarvis wants to get rid of water bottles in parks. That’s the goal. We want to do this," agency spokesman David Barna told the Traveler early this month. "The issue with Grand Canyon is it’s such a big park and it sets such a big precedent."

In his directive, Director Jarvis cited the Park Service's Green Parks Plan, which has a goal of reducing waste in the parks, in part by offering water bottle refilling stations in at least 75 percent of park visitor centers by 2016, the year the agency marks its centennial. That plan currently is under final review and is expected to be released early next year, he said.

As for banning disposable plastic bottles, Director Jarvis outlined three steps superintendents must take to implement a ban:

"Complete a rigorous impact analysis including an assessment of the effects on visitor health and safety, submit a request in writing to their regional director, and receive the approval of their regional director."

In his correspondence to the field, Director Jarvis touched on the "symbolism" of banning the bottles from national parks, but also noted the potential consequences of such a move.

"Banning the sale of water bottles in national parks has great symbolism, but runs counter to our healthy food initiative as it eliminates the healthiest choice for bottled drinks, leaving sugary drinks as a primary alternative," he wrote. "A ban could pose challenges for diabetics and others with health issues who come to a park expecting bottled water to be readily available.

"For parks without access to running water, filling stations for reusable bottles are impractical. A ban could affect visitor safety; proper hydration is key to planning a safe two-hour hike or a multi-day backcountry excursion. Even reasonably priced reusable water bottles may be out of reach for some visitors, especially those with large families.

"For these reasons, the National Park Service will implement a disposable plastic water bottle recycling and reduction policy, with an option to eliminate sales on a park-by-park basis following an extensive review and with the prior approval of the regional director."

Under that policy, parks are encouraged to have "robust" recycling programs, use education to convince visitors to reduce their use of disposable plastic bottles, and, "where appropriate," institute bans on the bottles.

Operations in at least two parks, Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes, already have bottle bans in  place. At Hawaii Volcanoes, where the cooperating association decided to stop selling disposable bottles, the association estimated it will gross $80,000 a year in reusable bottle sales and will net a profit. At Zion, concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which came up with the idea of banning disposable water bottle sales, lost $25,000 in 2009-10, according to the memo. However, the move at Zion reduced the waste stream by roughly 5,000 pounds annually and cut energy consumption in the visitor center by about 10 percent during 2009-2010.

In his directive, Director Jarvis said that parks that already have implemented bottle bans may leave them in place, but going forward must still address in writing to their regional directors the studies into the impacts of such a ban.

Featured Article


What is so difficult about bringing your own water bottle?
Bring a quart bottle and keep refilling it. Where? In the bathrooms. If you have water in bathrooms, you can keep refilling it. Besides, how many water bottles can you carry?
If you forget to bring a reusable bottle, the park visitor center will be happy to sell you one or more?
Danny Bernstein

I'm increasingly embarrassed by the national leadership of my agency. This policy --which did not go through the normal review channels inside the NPS-- seems to be an attempt to save face, saying "of course we support the environment" but then making it excessively onerous to do so. Why, for example, would superintendents need to consult with the Public Health Service before recommending a water bottle ban? The policy seems to fear that without rigorous top-down rules, superintendents will be banning water bottles left and right without reason. It's a big deal, and that's why only 3 parks have gone down this route thus far. Didn't Zion win a national award from the NPS for the way they implemented the ban successfully?

The only thing seeming to be missing from the requirements was the signature line for Coke to sign off on it...

J Longstreet
a national park superintendent

I agree with Superintendent Longstreet.  On what possible basis, other than profit, could Coca Cola possibly raise a legitimate issue here?  Please do not tell me that it was concern for public welfare.  For them to even be mentioned in this article as having had a recognized position and an effect on National Park Service policy in this matter is revealing and disgraceful.

My previous post sound naive?  Of course it does.  Sure, I know what else is likely to be going on behind the scenes, such as Coca Cola support for the National Park Foundation perhaps.  However, sometimes I prefer to step back and be just a bit naive when it comes to important issues like the preservation of our National Parks.  Then it becomes easier to get to the heart of the issue which is this:  Get commercial interests out of our parks.  To replace their lobbying funds, tax corporations more to support our parks.  Go back to the good old days when such corporate influence peddling on the part of our national park system was unthinkable.  *Sigh*  There I go again, being naive.

We visited the Grand Canyon and Zion, along with several other parks this summer. We were thrilled to see the water refilling stations. Most people still do not get the need to conserve our natural resources. They need to be forced to think about what they are doing when they grab yet another plastic water bottle.As long as the parks can provide good drinking water (water from the faucets in bathrooms is not always potable) then the selling of plastic water bottles should be banned. 

Hold on, there's no "Longstreet" listed in NPS's online personnel directory. 

Gee, at least I and others on here are truthful about who we are:).  Paranoia (even paranoids are right sometime) is alive and well.

I have assumed all along that "J Longstreet" is an alias, and that it is also a reference to Confederate General James Longstreet. Longstreet's Assault -- better known (albeit inappropriately) as Pickett's Charge -- was the climactic event of the Battle of Gettysburg. Perhaps "J Longstreet" is a Civil War buff or a person working at a Civil War park? Just a thought.    

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Enter the characters shown in the image.

2024 Reader Survey

Help the National Parks Traveler staff improve how we keep you informed on the latest news and features from the National Park System. While we're not planning a wholesale makeover of the Traveler website, your suggestions could help guide decisions affecting how our content is presented. Please take a few minutes to answer the following questions.

Please fill out our 2024 reader survey.

The Essential RVing Guide

The Essential RVing Guide to the National Parks

The National Parks RVing Guide, aka the Essential RVing Guide To The National Parks, is the definitive guide for RVers seeking information on campgrounds in the National Park System where they can park their rigs. It's available for free for both iPhones and Android models.

This app is packed with RVing specific details on more than 250 campgrounds in more than 70 parks.

You'll also find stories about RVing in the parks, some tips if you've just recently turned into an RVer, and some planning suggestions. A bonus that wasn't in the previous eBook or PDF versions of this guide are feeds of Traveler content: you'll find our latest stories as well as our most recent podcasts just a click away.

So whether you have an iPhone or an Android, download this app and start exploring the campgrounds in the National Park System where you can park your rig.