In August, the Trump administration rescinded a ban on single-use plastic water bottle sales in some national parks, claiming it was an unfair and unnecessary restriction that encouraged visitors to opt for unhealthy bottled beverages like soda (this argument was lifted from the International Bottled Water Association, a lobbying group protecting the interests of bottled water companies.) However, a report by the National Park Service made public Friday shows that in May, well before revoking the ban, the NPS and the Department of the Interior found that the ban had been remarkably effective and overwhelmingly positive for the parks that elected to participate.
The original “ban” is actually a voluntarily water bottle sales elimination program aimed at minimizing the disposal of water bottles in national parks. In 2011, Park Service Director John Jarvis issued a memo allowing the parks to eliminate sales of disposable water bottles. The parks that opted to do so—as of this year, 23 parks, monuments, and historical sites including Mount Rainier, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Canyon—added water bottle refilling stations and sold reusable bottles in their stores, using the water stations as an opportunity to educate visitors about proper hydration and the impact of disposable plastic. They would benefit from lower recycling costs, which are considerable for remote parks, and minimize their carbon footprint.
According to the program evaluation report published in May and made public last week, the program saved up to two million water bottles yearly. That’s 112,000 pounds of plastic, up to 140 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and between 276 cubic yards and 419 cubic yards of landfill space. In other words, it was a resounding success. The report summarized the results as follows: “The program has significant positive environmental benefits that encompass the entire life cycle of [disposable plastic water bottles]. It also indicates that parks support the [program] 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.” Promoting natural resource conservation is a key part of the National Park Service’s mission, which makes the revocation of the voluntary program out of line with their stated ethos.
None of the above information was released to the public when the ban was revoked—it took a Freedom of Information Act request to bring the report to the public. When the report finally came to light, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to re-instate the program, saying, “The Trump administration’s rationale for reversing the ban on water bottle sales in national parks is nonsensical and nonexistent, especially given the fact they actively ignored the Park Service’s own findings on the issue. This newly released report makes it clear as day that the Trump Administration will continue to deny science, research, and facts in its efforts to prioritize big corporations at the expense of our wildlife and environment. We know that this is an issue where a simple and reasonable solution would have a profound impact as we work to preserve our pristine natural places.”
A comprehensive study released in July showed that, since the advent of plastics in the mid-20th century, humankind has produced 9 billion tons of plastic. Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade, the vast majority of that plastic still exists today. 9 billion tons of plastic spread ankle-deep would cover an area four times the size of Texas. It’s the equivalent, in weight, of 25,000 Empire State buildings. 7 billion tons of plastic have been discarded, just 9% of which was recycled. 79% of it bides its time in landfills. And we’re not slowing down production or consumption; of those 9 billion tons, 4.5 billion were produced in just the last 13 years.
The Trump administration is virulently anti-regulation, removing protections for wildlife, halting environmental reviews, and pushing to open protected public lands to mining and other industrial use. It has also been particularly attentive to wealthy special interests. It should be noted that the aforementioned International Bottled Water Association spent five times more on lobbying last year than it did in any year before the ban was enacted.
“The bottled water industry has led a years-long campaign against this commonsense policy, all to protect its bottom line,” said Associate Campaign Director for Corporate Accountability International Lauren DeRusha Florez. “The fact that Trump administration officials knew the benefits of this policy back in May but still decided to rescind it last month, sure looks to me like the bottled water industry’s lobbying dollars at work.”
Photo by Jeff.