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National Park Service Far From Achieving Hydration Station Goals

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The National Park Service seems to be falling far short of its goal to install water-filling stations across the National Park System and banning disposable plastic water bottles/Kurt Repanshek

Six years after National Park Service officials set aspirational goals to reduce plastic waste across the park system by installing water-filling stations for the public, the agency has fallen far short of its hopes.

Whereas the agency's Green Parks Plan (attached below) published in 2010 listed a goal of having water-filling stations installed at "75 percent of visitor facilities" by this year, the Park Service's Centennial, and in all visitor facilities by 2020, just 22 parks have installed, or are in the process of installing, such stations, according to agency documents.

Jeremy Barnum, a spokesman at the Park Service's Washington, D.C., headquarters, said Friday the goal was not hard and fast, but rather was something the agency "hoped" it could achieve.

The goal of installing the filling stations in 75 percent of visitor facilities by 2016 (and all visitor facilities by 2020) was listed in the 2010 Green Parks Plan, and Shawn Norton, the Park Service's branch chief for sustainable operations and climate change, also said concessionaires would be required to replace the sale of disposable plastic bottles with the sale of reusable bottles in 75 percent of "appropriate" visitor facilities by this year, and in 100 percent of appropriate visitor facilities by 2020, in a letter to Steve Whitesell, at the time the Park Service's associate director.

The Green Parks Plan calls for the following waste reduction goals related to plastic bottles:

* NPS will provide drinking water filling stations (capable to fit water bottles) at visitor facilities and will make them accessible both during and after normal operating hours. 75% of visitor facilities by 2016.

* COLLABORATIVE OBJECTIVE: NPS will require concession operators to sell reusable water bottles and halt the sale of disposable water products in visitor facilities with water filling stations. 75% of appropriate facilities by 2016.

Mr. Norton noted in his letter that, "(T)he NPS Concessions Office has expressed a concern over these goals and has asked the Director (Jon Jarvis) to consider the feasibiity of these goals as it relates to concessions impacts."

Director Jarvis did take the matter into hand, and in December 2011 gave units across the National Park System the option of installing water-filling stations, but only after completing a feasibility study and gaining approval from their respective regional offices.

At the time, there were charges that the National Park Service had fallen under pressure from Coca-Cola and other companies that sell bottled water. 

Whatever factors impeded the program, going into 2016, just 22 parks (see below) had instituted bottle bans and installed, or were in the process of installing, water-filling stations, according to a March letter from the Park Service to key congressional committee chairs.

The seemingly sluggish movement on cutting back on plastic waste was criticized last week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which claimed that while there have been some significant reductions in waste, the number of park system units that have received approval to ban the sale of disposable plastic bottles has been flat since 2014.

Though some parks that have instituted the bans have reduced their recycling loads by as much as 40 percent, and their overall waste stream by 20 percent, just 5 percent of the 410 units in the system have put such bans in place, PEER said in a release.

“If national parks are to succeed in going green, they will have to kick their plastic habit,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that National Park Service seems unlikely to meet the 50 percent system-wide waste reduction goal it set to achieve by 2016, its centennial year. “Discarded plastic is costly, unsightly, and unsanitary, and is clogging park infrastructure like bad cholesterol.” 

According to PEER, disposable plastic water bottles represent the biggest source of trash in parks. Reducing the number of plastic bottles found in the parks is not easy, though. 

"Ending bottle sales is a 'green' practice the National Park Service authorized in 2011, after surmounting opposition from Coca-Cola, maker of the top-selling brand of bottled water," PEER's release said. And yet, "(L)ast year, the International Bottled Water Association lobbied Congress for a rider forbidding any parks from ending bottled water sales by concessionaires. While that rider failed, the industry group did obtain budget language requiring NPS to report all 'data' to justify decisions by parks to ban bottled water sales."

At VAPUR, a company that makes a foldable BPA-free reusable water bottle and has installed filling stations at Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Sequoia, Glacier, Katmai, and Virgin Islands national parks, Co-Founder Brent Reinke couldn't say Friday what was preventing more parks from moving forward with filling stations, but didn't think the Park Service was dragging its feet on the matter.

"It is not my impression at all at either the National Park Service level or with the NHA (natural history associations) that there is an aversion to bring in refill stations and eventually reducing or eliminating single-use bottles," said Mr. Reinke. "We see nothing but support of it, interest in it. I think there are various factors that come into play. One of them being, there is a process.

"We're working with a number of state parks and some national parks, and NHAs within those national parks, and it doesn't happen overnight. They have a certain group of people they have to talk to," he went on. "They then have to make sure it's in their budgets to pay for it. And so, I don't know if it's like dealing with large corporate America, but there is a process. And that takes some time. It always takes more time than you want it to."

Back in Washington, Mr. Barnum also couldn't say specifically why more parks don't have water-filling stations.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce the waste of disposable plastic bottles as much as possible," he said. "With 410 units, there are probably 410 different reasons why some parks may or may not participate in the policy.”

In its report to Congress this past March 28, the Park Service identified 22 parks with bottle bans, and reported the following percentages of reduction in their total waste stream and recycling load:

* Arches and Canyonlands national parks.................................................................15% total waste stream......................................................25% recycling load

* Colorado National Monument................................................................................10% recycling load (CNM cites discarded plastic bottles as top source of litter on trails and in canyons)

* Fort Laramie National Historic Site.........................................................................30% recycling load

* Grand Canyon National Park..................................................................................20% total waste stream......................................................30% recycling load

* Pecos National Historical Park................................................................................25% recycling load

* Petrified Forest National Park................................................................................30% recycling load

* San Antonio Mission National Historical Park.........................................................10% total waste stream......................................................25% recycling load

* Saguaro National Park...........................................................................................15% total waste stream......................................................40% recycling load

* Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument..........................................................10% total waste stream.....................................................15% recycling load

* Zion National Park..................................................................................................3% total waste stream........................................................6% recycling load (Zion reports 60% of its recycling and 3% of its waste stream is still plastic bottles)

PEER said "these cuts were achieved with minimal visitor complaints and often with support of concessionaires. However, these results are tempered by the record in Zion National Park, which cut its total waste stream by only 3 percent and its recycling load by just 6 percent. The park estimates that 60 percent of its recycling and 3 percent of its waste stream still consists of plastic bottles even after its sales ban went into effect in 2013."

The watchdog group added that the number of parks moving to end sales of plastic water bottles has slowed dramatically: The 22 parks with bans in place marks an increase of just four from 2014, and they are "clustered in just three of the Park Service’s seven regions, with no bottle-free parks in the Pacific West, Northeast or Capital Region."

Several major parks, such as Yellowstone, Golden Gate, Mount Rainier, and Biscayne, have studied the bottle-free option, but none have taken the plunge, said PEER.

“The bottlers’ push for congressional intervention may be deterring superintendents from making an investment in construction of watering stations for visitors,” suggested Mr. Ruch, arguing that Congress should be helping rather than impeding parks in reducing their operating costs. “Without strong national leadership, our parks will continue to drown in waves of waste from rising tides of visitors.”

It should be noted that it's very likely that there are some parks that have installed filling stations, but not banned plastic bottles, and parks that might have banned plastic bottles but not installed filling stations. That data is not readily available.

Here's the list of 22 parks that have instituted bottle bans:

Comments

It would be nice if the NPS put their time, effort and money into meaningful efforts to address the maintenance backlog rather than this quixotic adventure.


While I don't think it a "quixotic adventure," I agree with ecbuck that it should not be a high priority on the spending list now. Use the money to repair infrastructure, increase staff pay and hire more staff. We've filled our bottles from drinking fountains forever. What's the problem? Yes, disposable bottles add to litter, etc., but getting rid of them now would be just a drop in the environmental bucket while other extremely urgent park problems go unaddressed.


Thank you Traveler for the informative post on the effort of eliminating sale of plastic water bottles in the National Parks. Still being employed on an emergency basis in a large western park, plastic waste, particularly water bottles, but everything you can think of, is a huge problem. All you need to do is go through a campground with the solid waste collection personnel, or go to the local landfill, to find out just how much is being thrown away. The efforts of these solid waste people is impressive. They are trying, but the load is almost insurmountable. At our local county landfill, employees must dig through the dumpster truck loads trying to sort out some of this plastic just to keep the landfill operating. A very dirty, hazardous job. I think many citizens, given the chance to work with these employees, would have a very different perspective. "This is not a quixotic adventure".   Thank you also to PEER for helping forcing the issue. 


Ron, plastic water bottles are a miniscule portion of any sold waste land fill.  And while trash is definately an issue in the parks, although most is other than plastic bottles, a simple bottle deposit would address the  issue, either by encouraging people to turn their bottles back in or providing funds to pay for trash pickup.   Banning the sale of plastic water bottles in parks will have absolute no material impact on landfills or our overall environment.  It is Quixotic in its very nature.  


Meanwhile, Congress and most state legislatures, reacting to political pressures and dependence upon financial donations from the plastics industry refuse to pass legislation to mandate bottle and can deposits.  In many places even residential recycling is not available or is available only if the family pays extra for it.  Slow but steady progress is being made, but if our lawmakers ever put their priorities in the right places that progress could become very rapid very rapidly.

Efforts to pass container deposit legislation in the 39 states that do not have them are often politically contentious. The U.S. beverage container industry--including both the bottlers of water, soda, beer, and the corporate owners of grocery stores and convenience stores--often spends large amounts of money lobbying against the introduction of both new and amended beverage container deposit legislation

How many states have deposit laws?  Ten.  Only one has a mandatory recycling law.

I don't remember what state I was in (Oregon???) where I saw some machines into which you could deposit empty containers and then the machine dispensed a refund.  At the time, I thought 'Wow, what a wonderful businses opportunity!'  Some entrepreneurs are missing the proverbial boat.

 


The NPS doesn't need a national deposit law.  They can implement that themselves. 


Great idea!  Fee collection rangers at park entrances require visitors to gather all their disposable containers so they can be counted.  Then add the NPS deposit to the park entrance fees and allow them to enter the park.  On the way out, the visitors present all the empties to the rangers, who count them and return the deposits.

Genius!  We all need to write letters to Jon Jarvis.


Once again Lee, you create a strawman.  Not what I proposed and not workable.  However, putting a deposit on water bottles inside the park would address more effectively the stated problem (litter) than eliminating sales inside the park.  

Speaking of strawmen, where is your explaination of $57 billion of taxes and $16 bill of netcome being a "subsidy"  or your substantiation that the feds subsidize Walmart.  Just more of your baseless accusations.  


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