The federal government announced recently that it would eliminate a policy that allowed national parks to forbid the sale of bottled water, therefore rescinding the “Water Bottle Ban.” The National Park Service said in a statement the decision was made to “expand hydration options for recreationists, hikers, and other visitors to the national parks,” and that it was up to “visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated.”
The water bottle policy went into effect in 2011, after being enacted during the Obama administration after studies showed that water bottles were amongst the worst pollutants in national parks.
The “Water Bottle Ban” was optional, as it was up to parks to decide whether to halt the sale of bottled water. As of last week, the ban had only been implemented in 23 out of the 417 national parks, though most of the most popular national parks were on board, including the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and Zion National Park. They estimated that around 20% of all their waste was composed of empty water bottles.
The ban did not stop the sale of other plastic bottled beverages such as sodas and sports drinks; it encouraged national parks to halt the sale of bottled water in an effort to reduce litter. A news release from the National Park Service commented that the memorandum was flawed, as it “removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks.” Opponents argued that outlawing pure water while still allowing sugary drinks sold in less environmentally friendly bottles made no sense.
Sandy Bahr, from the Sierra Club said “It’s a really bad message for the parks to be sending and inconsistent with their mission which is … to protect the resources, and so having plastic water bottles littering the landscape is certainly not consistent with that,” adding “The National Park Service should be showing leadership and setting examples and not taking steps backward — and that’s what this is.”
The policy was reversed immediately, though it’s not clear if the parks will decide to start selling bottled water again. However, they have said that they will continue to urge visitors to use refillable water bottles, and are working with partners to increase the number of bottle-filling stations.