That National Park Water Bottle Ban Trump Killed? It Was Working

Buried report is unearthed by FOIA request and shows that two million bottles were saved.

In August, the Trump administration rescinded a ban on single-use plastic water bottle sales in some national parks, claiming it was an unfair and unnecessary restriction that encouraged visitors to opt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.

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Showing 14 comments
  • jim

    follow the money and see who benefits. surprise! it’s the bottled water industry.
    whatever happened to drinking fountains and water bottle filler upper taps? they are all over the place in europe.

  • Ash

    Would it not have made more sense to ban all single-use plastic bottle sales and not just water? I appreciate this would have included the most American of all brands, Coca Cola, and as such would no doubt have made the bill that much harder to pass but a bottle is a bottle. The environment doesn’t care what it previously contained.

  • Hobart Flect

    Looks like another article (regardless of author) with Mr. Casimiro’s fingerprints all over it. The title making it look as though the president woke up one morning and decided that plastic water bottles and the ecological threat they pose was just another wacko lunatic fringe concept so he (personally) lifted the bottle ban. Good grief, get a life, if the democrat candidate for president had won the election this country would be circling the toilet bowl for the last time before it disappeared into the abyss of history: GET OVER IT!

    • Steve Casimiro


      • John Wren

        I don’t care who wrote it or if Trump came up with the idea if he was passing wind while tweeting – the facts are that this step to rescind a ban to protect the wilderness was removed without any consideration as to the positive impacts it will have on protecting parks for future generations.

        The rationale that it would encourage soda drinks instead of water is a bunch of baloney – what a crook.

    • Craig Rowe

      Oh man, this is awesome. You must be new here. Are you under some kind of delusion that Steve doesn’t publish and produce pro-environmental content? What do you expect when you approach a website with such a title, rich in articles on rock climbing, camping, outdoor gear, and the adventure lifestyle? Please, share huge expectations. Furthermore, can you find evidence anywhere to dispute the facts this piece extols?

      If not, there has to be a better sand hole somewhere in which your head fits.

    • Jul

      With this candidate though, your country is filling the toilet bowl instead of flushing it.
      We can’t deny the fact that, since the man came to power, corporate greed has even more grip over common sense and humanity.
      Accepting reality and getting over it doesn’t mean we should stop putting to light what’s being done, as this article does.

    • A

      Lol @Hobart, what’s your point? The point of the article is that there was a plastic water bottle sale restriction, which effectively reduced the number of sales and thus the associated negative effects of plastic bottle littering and pollution as well. Now that ban has been lifted for… what reason exactly? Because some politicians (ones who were supposed to “drain the swamp”?) were paid by lobbyists and companies to allow plastic water bottle sales to resume, thus likely leading to an increase in the pollutant effects of plastic.

      From your comment though you seem to be saying, “plastic bottles are bad for the environment, get over it”, and then proceed to drag Hillary into this (when she is irrelevant here). Stop deflecting. Plastic bottles are bad for the environment, that is common knowledge and the lifting of this ban is a careless step backward seemingly motivated by nothing more than money. You got got when you voted for Trump.

  • Roger

    Plastic water bottles and other such refuse wouldn’t be a problem if the pigs who carelessly discard their trash in National Parks (and elsewhere) could demonstrate the minimal amount of self-control, respect, and decency necessary to properly dispose of their trash in a proper place and fashion. (Leave No Trace) The “things” themselves aren’t the problem — the people are!

    • Erik

      I think that you’re missing the main point here, Roger. The problem isn’t so much that they are becoming litter–it is that the whole life cycle of a plastic water bottle causes numerous problems, from the manufacturing process all of the way to the millions that make their way into landfills, the ocean, or are incinerated.

      • Roger

        Erik, your point is well made and well taken, but as it pertains specifically to litter in National Parks, I find it impossible to lay blame anywhere other than at the feet of irresponsible human beings. To be honest, I find blame for most of the world’s problems (rightly or wrongly) at the feet of irresponsible humans. Not saying I’m right; just my (admittedly cynical) opinion. You are correct: Problems with plastic certainly reach far beyond litter in National Parks.

    • Mo

      @ Roger

      Exactly! What kind of slob just dumps garbage on the ground in a park, or anywhere?

  • Traveler

    According to the article “The original “ban” is actually a voluntarily water bottle sales elimination program aimed at minimizing the disposal of water bottles in national parks.” With only 23 of our 417 national parks engaged in a voluntary “ban” there seems to be a large component missing from this story. If the program truly added such dramatic value for our parks and the visitors, wouldn’t a wider adoption have appeared since it was rolled out in 2011? Parks never have enough funding and a best practice that significantly eases maintenance and reduces a large budget expense item would be expected to grow beyond 5% adoption in a 6 year period. There is obviously more to the narrow adoption since inception and subsequent decision than just an increase of lobby dollars from the bottlers over the last 12 months. The article also doesn’t help us understand if, since it was voluntary to begin with, is it now compulsory for the 23 parks to start selling single use bottled water? If not this whole thing is really ranting over a non-issue. Parks will or won’t as they choose- which has apparently been the status over the last 6 years of the “ban”.

  • Roger

    Amen, brother! I just don’t get it.

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