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Sale of Plastic Water Bottles Banned At Grand Canyon National Park


Well-placed marketing. At the Island in the Sky Visitor Center at Canyonlands National Park, you can buy bottled water right at the front door....or walk about 20 feet to the free water spout (that cylindrical feature in the background) nearby. Kurt Repanshek photo.

In a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers. 

The ban on less-than-one gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is hoped to eliminate the source of 20 percent of the park's "waste stream" and 30 percent of its recyclables.
The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently decided to ban the bottles. At first, Director Jarvis was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility had claimed that 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.

Grand Canyon National Park’s plan to eliminate the bottles was submitted and approved  under the policy issued by Director Jarvis on December 14, 2011.  The policy permitted parks to eliminate in-park sales following an analysis and approval by the park’s regional director.

The analysis required elaborate assessments that included a 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.  The analysis also dictated the consideration of "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors could find water filling stations.

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

In banning the bottles, Regional Director Wessels said, “Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability. Grand Canyon National Park has provided an excellent analysis of the impacts the elimination of bottled water would have, and has developed a well-thought-out plan for ensuring that the safety, needs and comfort of visitors continue to be met in the park. I feel confident that the impacts to park concessioners and partners have been given fair consideration and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public.”

Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said, “We want to minimize both the monetary and environmental costs associated with water packaged in disposable containers. We are grateful to the Director for recognizing the need for service-wide guidance on this issue and for providing a thoughtful range of options.”

“A lot of careful thought went into this plan and its implementation,” said Director Jarvis.  “I applaud Grand Canyon National Park for its efforts to reduce waste and the environmental impacts created by individually packaged water.  This is another example of the National Park Service’s commitment to being an exemplar of the ways we can all reduce our imprint on the land as we embrace sustainable practices that will protect the parks for generations to come.”

Last year, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of a bottled water ban. They wanted to consider how a ban might affect the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands. Officials also noted that Grand Canyon National Park has experienced increasing amounts of litter associated with disposable plastic bottles along trails both on the rim and within the inner canyon, marring canyon viewpoints and visitor experiences.

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.

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How about banning the sale of cigarettes in national parks?  Secondhand smoke pollutes the air in national parks.  Carelessly discarded cigarettes start wildfires.  Cigarette butts litter all national parks. 

Go NPS! ... way to take the leadership role.

hmmmmm.....makes we wonder.  Would I go to the park, buy a $1.50 bottle of cola, dump it to use it as my bottle?  The idea of free water, with a cost of a $10 bottle is not appealing.  Plus....many Americans would just throw out these re-usable bottles when returnig from vacation.  Sounds like 70% of the visitors are drinking soda, what about those bottles?  For a society that is trying to be more health conscious and teaching the youth to drink less soda I don't really get this plan.  It will be very interesting to see if the sales of soda just go up to make up for the loss in water sales.  If the park is going to eliminate water sales for environmental reasons, they need to go back to fountain soda.
Can we work on recycling more?

There's no need to buy a refillable water bottle at the park and then throw it away when you get home. It's always a good idea to have one, whether you're a hiker or not. When not in use, keep one in the trunk of your car for emergencies. 

Mike Painter:
There's no need to buy a refillable water bottle at the park and then throw it away when you get home. It's always a good idea to have one, whether you're a hiker or not. When not in use, keep one in the trunk of your car for emergencies.

  Maybe kept empty, but I wouldn't recommend keeping a filled bottle around for long unless it was boiled and then capped. There's too much stuff that can grow in there.

I've left filled bottles in my car, forgot about them, and pulled them out in a month or so. Various stuff grows in there - even if it's tap water treated with chlorine or chloramine. If it's charcoal filtered water, it's probably worse. For emergencies I'd keep bottled water with a two year shelf life.

I never toss plastic bottles in the trash. Now glass is another matter. I understand that there's little market for recycled glass because it's actually cheaper to make new glass from sand than to process recycled glass (which may come in assorted colors).

It sends a good message and hopefully it will help by decreasing the amount of garbage at the parks.

Totally agree with you, I really don't like when come to park tour with kids and near you smoking teenager( You thought that glass bottles can be hazardous to health?

Anon - What "good message" is that?

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