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Disposable Plastic Water Bottle Ban In National Parks Cut 2 Million Bottles From Waste Stream...Maybe

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A ban on the sale of disposable plastic water bottles in national parks prevented upwards of 2 million 16-ounce bottles from entering the waste stream on an annual basis, according to a National Park Service study, though, curiously, at the same time the veracity of the report was called into question by the agency.

While the report claims a "95 percent confidence level," a cover page added by the Park Service's Facility Management Division carries a stipulation that, "(T)hough the Report’s original intent was to help NPS leaders understand and take action on the policy, the bureau lacked the data necessary to ensure the Report’s findings."

Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., could not immediately explain the contradiction, though staff at Corporate Accountability International, which long has supported the ban, suggested that the disclaimer "looks like an attempt by officials of the Trump administration to downplay the clear benefits outlined and documented in this report."

Back in August the Trump administration announced in a brief statement that it was dropping the ban as "part of its "commitment to providing a safe and world-class visitor experience." 

“While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said acting Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds at the time.

The announcement came three months after the Park Service issued an internal report attesting to the effectiveness of the ban in removing plastic from the waste stream. According to the report, which the Washington Post obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, 23 units of the National Park System had been authorized to institute a ban, though 16 other parks also apparently had followed suit without official approval from their regional offices.

Using an environmental benefits tool crafted in part from peer-reviewed calculations used by the Environmental Protection Agency and data from the National Association for PET Container Resources used to "promote the use of PET and facilitate its recycling," the Park Service concluded that the 23 parks were responsible for removing 1.32 million-2.01 million 16-ounce bottles from the waste stream. That, in turn, cut between 73,624-111,743 pounds of PET from landfills, resulted in energy savings of 2,209-3,353 million British thermal units per year, and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 93-141 metric tons, the report stated.

"As parks continue to implement their (bottle bans), these numbers and the resulting environmental benefits are expected to grow," the report said.

"Annual savings of 1.32M – 2.01M water bottles/year demonstrates the program has significant positive environmental benefits that encompass the entire life cycle of (disposable plastic water bottles)," the reported added a bit later. "It also indicates that parks support the (policy) and are seeing tangible outcomes. The policy further demonstrates the commitment of the NPS to environmental stewardship, to reducing the environmental footprint of the NPS, and to the concept of sustainability."

While the report concluded by saying the Park Service might "consider enhancing the current program" through better marketing and making free drinking water available through concessionaires and cooperating agencies, that plan apparently has evaporated.

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