National Park Service Changes Its Tune, Ends Ban On Disposable Water Bottle Sales In Parks

Image courtesy of Steven Depolo

In a move meant to “expand hydration options” for visitors to national parks, the National Park Service is reversing a six-year-old policy that allowed parks to ban the sale of bottled water.

NPS announced that effective immediately, the water bottle ban “has been rescinded to expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks,” noting that the ban “removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks.”

As part of an effort to combat piles of water bottles cluttering sites like the Grand Canyon, NPS issued rules in 2011 that let parks ban the sale of bottled water — a policy that didn’t include bottled sweetened drinks.

It was a big problem at that time for the Grand Canyon, for example, where discarded plastic bottles accounted for around 30% of trash in 2011.

Of the 417 NPS sites in the country, 23 have implemented the policy, including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon, park officials said.

Why change now?

The change in policy comes after a review of the policy’s aims and impact in close consultation with Department of the Interior leadership, NPS said in its statement.

Members of Congress also weighed in on the issue, prompting the House Appropriations Committee to ask park officials to review the policy, NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum told the Associated Press. Going forward, NPS thinks visitors will make good choices on their own.

“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 National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds.

Parks will still push recycling of plastic water bottles, while some also provide free water bottle-filling stations to encourage people to reuse their bottles instead of tossing them when they’re done.

We’ve reached out to NPS for more information and will update this post if we hear back.

Mixed reactions

Unsurprisingly, the bottled water industry is pleased with NPS’ decision.

A spokeswoman for the International Bottled Water Association applauded the move, calling it a “seriously flawed” policy that allowed the sale of less healthy beverages.

“It was established to reduce waste left behind by park visitors, but people coming to the parks that banned the sale of bottled water were still allowed to buy other less healthy beverages – including carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, teas, milk, beer, and wine – that are packaged in much heavier plastic, glass, cans, and cardboard containers,” a spokesperson for IBWA said in a statement, adding that the group will work with NPS to develop effective recycling programs aimed at addressing waste issues in national parks.

PepsiCo — maker of the Aquafina brand of bottled water — said in a statement to Consumerist that the decision “gives visitors another convenient option to choose from as they look to stay hydrated throughout the day.”

Environmental groups are not so happy.

“Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recent decision to remove a ban on plastic water bottles in our National Parks is clearly an industry-oriented move further emphasizing where this administration’s allegiances stand,” Sierra Club’s public lands policy director Athan Manuel said in a statement.

“Actions that rollback protections on our National Parks and public lands only move our country backward– putting the importance of local economies, wildlife and communities on the back burner. The reversal is but a symbol for this administration’s larger attacks on environmental safeguards and protection of public lands.