NPS Director Jarvis Allows Parks To Ban Disposable Plastic Bottles

Those seemingly ubiquitous disposable plastic bottles, the ones that generated a storm of controversy over their proposed ban at Grand Canyon National Park, may now be banned by park superintendents nationwide.

But first superintendents must conduct a somewhat arduous series of extensive studies (see attached) that include, among other things, review of the amount of waste that could be eliminated from the park; the costs of installing and maintaining water filling stations for visitors; the resulting impact on concessionaire and cooperative association revenues, and; consultation with the Park Service's Public Health Office.

Then, too, they must consider "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors can find water filling stations. Also, they need to take into consideration safety considerations for visitors who might resort to drinking water "from surface water sources with potential exposure to disease" or who neglect to carry enough water with them on hikes.

Notice of Director Jarvis's decision on banning the bottles came Wednesday in a directive sent to all regional directors, who in turn distributed the policy memo down the line.

"Sustainability is a signature effort for the National Park Service. We must be a visible exemplar of sustainability, so it's important that we move our sustainability program forward as an organization. While superintendents need some discretion to tailor implementation to local situations, it is not the purview of any one park to set policy," wrote Director Jarvis.

The directive comes little more than a month after the director was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. According to a string of documents and emails obtained by Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility, Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff.

At the time, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of such a ban. For instance, they said at the time, how might the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands be impacted by a ban?

“Jon Jarvis wants to get rid of water bottles in parks. That’s the goal. We want to do this," agency spokesman David Barna told the Traveler early this month. "The issue with Grand Canyon is it’s such a big park and it sets such a big precedent."

In his directive, Director Jarvis cited the Park Service's Green Parks Plan, which has a goal of reducing waste in the parks, in part by offering water bottle refilling stations in at least 75 percent of park visitor centers by 2016, the year the agency marks its centennial. That plan currently is under final review and is expected to be released early next year, he said.

As for banning disposable plastic bottles, Director Jarvis outlined three steps superintendents must take to implement a ban:

"Complete a rigorous impact analysis including an assessment of the effects on visitor health and safety, submit a request in writing to their regional director, and receive the approval of their regional director."

In his correspondence to the field, Director Jarvis touched on the "symbolism" of banning the bottles from national parks, but also noted the potential consequences of such a move.

"Banning the sale of water bottles in national parks has great symbolism, but runs counter to our healthy food initiative as it eliminates the healthiest choice for bottled drinks, leaving sugary drinks as a primary alternative," he wrote. "A ban could pose challenges for diabetics and others with health issues who come to a park expecting bottled water to be readily available.

"For parks without access to running water, filling stations for reusable bottles are impractical. A ban could affect visitor safety; proper hydration is key to planning a safe two-hour hike or a multi-day backcountry excursion. Even reasonably priced reusable water bottles may be out of reach for some visitors, especially those with large families.

"For these reasons, the National Park Service will implement a disposable plastic water bottle recycling and reduction policy, with an option to eliminate sales on a park-by-park basis following an extensive review and with the prior approval of the regional director."

Under that policy, parks are encouraged to have "robust" recycling programs, use education to convince visitors to reduce their use of disposable plastic bottles, and, "where appropriate," institute bans on the bottles.

Operations in at least two parks, Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes, already have bottle bans in place. At Hawaii Volcanoes, where the cooperating association decided to stop selling disposable bottles, the association estimated it will gross $80,000 a year in reusable bottle sales and will net a profit. At Zion, concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which came up with the idea of banning disposable water bottle sales, lost $25,000 in 2009-10, according to the memo. However, the move at Zion reduced the waste stream by roughly 5,000 pounds annually and cut energy consumption in the visitor center by about 10 percent during 2009-2010.

In his directive, Director Jarvis said that parks that already have implemented bottle bans may leave them in place, but going forward must still address in writing to their regional directors the studies into the impacts of such a ban.

Policy on Disposable Plastic Water Bottles.pdf251.91 KB


What is so difficult about bringing your own water bottle?
Bring a quart bottle and keep refilling it. Where? In the bathrooms. If you have water in bathrooms, you can keep refilling it. Besides, how many water bottles can you carry?
If you forget to bring a reusable bottle, the park visitor center will be happy to sell you one or more?
Danny Bernstein

I'm increasingly embarrassed by the national leadership of my agency. This policy --which did not go through the normal review channels inside the NPS-- seems to be an attempt to save face, saying "of course we support the environment" but then making it excessively onerous to do so. Why, for example, would superintendents need to consult with the Public Health Service before recommending a water bottle ban? The policy seems to fear that without rigorous top-down rules, superintendents will be banning water bottles left and right without reason. It's a big deal, and that's why only 3 parks have gone down this route thus far. Didn't Zion win a national award from the NPS for the way they implemented the ban successfully?

The only thing seeming to be missing from the requirements was the signature line for Coke to sign off on it...

J Longstreet
a national park superintendent

I agree with Superintendent Longstreet. On what possible basis, other than profit, could Coca Cola possibly raise a legitimate issue here? Please do not tell me that it was concern for public welfare. For them to even be mentioned in this article as having had a recognized position and an effect on National Park Service policy in this matter is revealing and disgraceful.

My previous post sound naive? Of course it does. Sure, I know what else is likely to be going on behind the scenes, such as Coca Cola support for the National Park Foundation perhaps. However, sometimes I prefer to step back and be just a bit naive when it comes to important issues like the preservation of our National Parks. Then it becomes easier to get to the heart of the issue which is this: Get commercial interests out of our parks. To replace their lobbying funds, tax corporations more to support our parks. Go back to the good old days when such corporate influence peddling on the part of our national park system was unthinkable. *Sigh* There I go again, being naive.

We visited the Grand Canyon and Zion, along with several other parks this summer. We were thrilled to see the water refilling stations. Most people still do not get the need to conserve our natural resources. They need to be forced to think about what they are doing when they grab yet another plastic water bottle.As long as the parks can provide good drinking water (water from the faucets in bathrooms is not always potable) then the selling of plastic water bottles should be banned.

Hold on, there's no "Longstreet" listed in NPS's online personnel directory.

Gee, at least I and others on here are truthful about who we are:). Paranoia (even paranoids are right sometime) is alive and well.

I have assumed all along that "J Longstreet" is an alias, and that it is also a reference to Confederate General James Longstreet. Longstreet's Assault -- better known (albeit inappropriately) as Pickett's Charge -- was the climactic event of the Battle of Gettysburg. Perhaps "J Longstreet" is a Civil War buff or a person working at a Civil War park? Just a thought.

if you were a Superintendent criticizing the NPS on a website do you really think you'd use your real name?

The lodges at Grand Canyon, North Rim, Bryce and Zion have already eliminated those little plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles from the bathrooms (going for the European style dispenser). I suppose the little plastic shampoo bottle industry doesn't have much of a lobby.

According to Jarvis, "Even reasonably priced reusable water bottles may be out of reach for some visitors, especially those with large families."
Hmmmm. What does that say about the practice of charging fees for backcountry permits? A 3-day 2-night backpacking permit for a family of four in Grand Canyon costs $50 - not including the $25 Entrance Fee. For families with financial challenges, the Parks have priced themselves into irrelevance, and the cost of Nalgene bottles is the least of it.

I'm an NPS superintendent. I think it was a good decision.
Signed, NPS superintendent

Acts of Reprisals are "Alive and Well" within the NPS High Command toward anyone at any level who dares to think independently or exercise their perceived "Freedom of Speech" So, remaining Anonymous has Value for later retirement benefits; At this rate, let's acknowledge, the NPS is on the same down-sizing/extinction threat as the US Postal Service. Now, on plastic bottles or any container including aluminum, began a dime deposit program for recycling, (Yes, Xanterrible, this means You Too !) especially the basic advertising rule for any agency thinking they are a "conservation agency" or pretending to be one.

Parks have been around longer than those plastic bottles of water have been sold. So, visitors can just go back to doing what they were before PBW existed. Why is this a problem?

1. The Director never said he agreed with Coca Cola and reversed the Grand Canyon bottle ban program. He said he wanted to review it. That seems to be exactly what happened here.

2. The notable person who first went public on this was the former superintendent (and former NPS Dep. director) of Grand Canyon, Mr. Martin. This website has covered numerous comments by people who complained about activities and programs of Mr. Martin before -- Hubble T-P, core mission, and on and on -- complaining at the least that he winged it, that his programs were not thought through. Near the end of his superintendency, he made a presentation on a different project than this one to the NPS development projects review board, and did not have answers to most of the key questions superintendents are supposed to consider in advance before implementing development projects. Now, with all that history, how big a surprise is it that the Director would want to examine this bottle ban before it is implemented? The NPS deputy director responsible for the National Park Foundation programs is new to the NPS, and also may not have given this a thorough review; or even if he did to his own satisfaction, it would make sense to keep an eye on something he reviewed with huge operational implications. Is it really implausible the Director would want to review it? Why shouldn't he?

3. Coca Cola does not give enough money or push the NPS hard enough for anyone to think their funding matters very much, compared to the cost of running the parks, total donations from all sources, and the value obtained from Coke. The National Park Foundation, the ones who actually contacted the NPS about Coke, is not considered to be highly regarded for its accomplishments by the NPS either. It is impossible to believe Coke would want to be perceived as kicking up this kind of fuss, considering the only reason for these small donations is to improve the image of the corporations. There is no leverage here. But if the NPF and Coke raise objections here, should the NPS ignore their objection, or take a look at their complaint?

4. It was a fast turnaround on the review. The issues they want superintendents to consider are not ridiculous.

This Director has the most active "green" practices program in NPS history. If NPS knew the bottle ban at Grand Canyon was ready to go, fully vetted and in solid shape, and a minor donor like Coke raised an objection, NPS would not be intimidated by Coke's complaints. But if someone with standing raised objections and sound answers were not known or immediately forthcoming, then they would do a review. The same thing happened at Sen. Feinstein objected to ending the oyster lease. But in neither case did the NPS just roll over to corporate or political pressure.

I rarely will buy an overpriced bottle of water. I mean, really. If you want to talk about cost..... If you can buy a bottle, there is likely to be running water, either in washrooms or drinking fountains. Refill my reusable. More cost effective for me, better for the environment. Win/win.

Allowing bottled water to be sold at national parks is like allowing beer to be sold at an AA meeting.

Plastic in the environment is killing us all. How many thousands of sea animals die each year from eating plastic? How many humans become ill from eating these same sea animals?

Who else but the NPS to guide people to be responsible for their own hydration when visiting a park unit.

I have heard the following exchange twice in recent years at NPS visitor centers (Lone Pine, Point Reyes):

Visitor, speaking to VC staff person: "Hey, where is the bottled water?"

VC Staff (with embarrassment in voice, apologetically) "We don't sell bottled water any more, you have to go into Lone Pine/Olema to get it."

How unfortunate that this interaction was not used to explain why a reusable vessel is a much wiser and necessary choice for all involved and how you can purchase them and fill them right here.

How many times a day does this sort of dialog take place across the US?

All NPS staff need to have a positive response memorized for when visitors ask this question.

And I hope it is asked more often and soon.

"Plastic in the environment is killing us all. How many thousands of sea animals die each year from eating plastic? How many humans become ill from eating these same sea animals?" Pray tell Richard. How many of each?

The announcement by Jarvis leaves the PWB ban at Grand Canyon as clear as mud (as usual) and shifts the focus from him to IMR director Wessels and the new grca superintendet. As I read the documents, the acting park superintendent made it clear to WASO and IMR back in June that the park did not intend to implement the PWB ban at Grand Canyon (that had been scheduled by superintendent Martin before he "retired") and chose to provide choice and education to the public. Thus, Mr. Uberuaga (now with explicit approval from Mr. Wessels) will now have to proactively overturn the most recent superintendent's very reasonable decision and reimplement the outright ban pushed through by Martin. (Which I contend will be mostly innefective since visitors can easily drive a few miles to Tusayan and buy all the bottled water they want.) It really doesn't matter what coca cola said or didn't say about the bottle ban proposed by Mr. Martin, this incident just proves once again how devoid current nps managers are of any real environmental leadership.

Simple solution all disposable containers should have a deposit on them at least 25 cents then they would be picked up or not thrown away. How about this- would you rather step on a broken glass bottle or plastic? I am not buying two dozen drinking bottles at 2-3 dollars each.. No you can't get just one and refill it, their is no place to refill, bathroom sinks don't fit. their are five of us and refillable bottles are heavy and clumsy. I vist many Parks each year, I have not seen a problem. But a decent container deposit (25-50 cents) would solve the problem nationwide.

I worked for the cooperating association at the Grand Canyon for the summer of 2011. We voluntarily stopped selling disposable plastic water bottles and began to sell low-cost refillable green bottles. When visitors asked to purchase bottled water, I was very happy to tell them, "Fresh, cold spring water is FREE at the Grand Canyon!" Most were delighted with this answer, and happily purchased a refillable souvenir water bottle. Kudos to the NPS for going ahead with this important program.

If you just GOOGLE "animals killed by plastic bottles," you'll find a large number (and variety) of websites that give stats on the hazards plastic, including plastic bottles, pose to wildlife.

Justin, were do I Google to see the humans that have been killed by those dead animals?
His statement is typical of the eco-hysteria. And if there is a problem with plastic in the ocean - the problem isn't the plastic - its the idiots that put it in the ocean. There are many ways to safely recycle or dispose of plastics. We don't need to abandon their vast benefits.

About time! The environment is thanking Jarvis right now. And the act itself is powerful in its symbolism against the bottled water industry I'd argue.

Hear hear!

There is a larger question here. That is of all the plastics in the parks and moreso the off-shore manufacturing of trinkets (China, etc.) that are filling up our visitor center's gift shops and the bordering community's trinket shops.
The NPS needs to retool their entire thinking of the marketing of plastics (read oil) and revert back to simpler systems; i.e. visitor carried vessels in this case. Their goal should be not only to iliminate these products entirely, but to educate the park visitor not to purchase these items in the first place.

Why Doug?
Oh, and BTW - how many plastic is inside your fridge? How about under your kitchen sink? How much plastic is in your mobile tomb known as the Chevy Volt? Do you live your life without plastic or are you like the fur protesters wearing leather belts and shoes and downing a McDonalds burger every day?

ecbuck, I'm going to agree with Doug, but you do raise a valid point. I can't speak for Doug, but in my case I do try and limit my use of plastic as much as I can, but it is almost impossible now. I only use reusable bottles and never, ever buy any drink that comes in a plastic bottle. All my storage containers for food leftovers are glass. But many of the things I purchase only come in plastic so I have no choice. All the cleaning materials I use, milk, etc only come in plastic containers. Sometimes you have no choice because that is what the manufactures use.

I have a problem with other people pushing the "anti-plastic" bottle agenda on me -- especially when they have you over a barrel so to speak in a National Park. Most of us are against plastic pollution-- we understand it's a problem for the enviornment and all that. Forcing people to buy an "approved' water container just seems a little too pushy --- why not try to educate people about reusable water containers instead and give them the choice?? We did buy the reusabe containers while at grand teton/ yellowstone this past spring and were happy to do it-- but forcing the issue just doesn't seem right.. Next we'll ban smoking,eating junk food and all kind of other things some find objectable??

There is a pretty big difference between plastic that is intended for single use and immediate disposal. Water bottles fall into that category while Chevy Volts and re-useable kitchen containers do not.

In any event, we all need to remember that proper disposal is key. Education to that end is essential. Container deposits on plastic and aluminum would go a long way to helping with education since the most effective educational tool for the average American adult seems to be the contents of their wallet.

Lee, I wasn't thinking about reusable kitchen containers. I was thinking of ketchup bottles, mustard, mayonaise, pre-packaged deli meats ....... or under the kitchen sink where you have windex bottles, cleaners, dish soap - et al -- all in plastic bottles.
And yes there is a difference with the Chevy Volt, plastic bottles aren't subsidized to the tune of thousands of dollars each.
But I agree with you - propert disposal and education are key. Heck - I don't even have a problem with deposits as long as 1) the cost doesn't impact sales 2) the cost of administration is covered by the deposits 3) and any "extra" funds are used for cleaning and disposing of the same

Gee, ec, we agree -- sort of.

I did a quick look for Volt subsidies and found an interesting link:

But then, darn near everything is subsidized these days. Ah, well . . . . Here in our town, they even subsidize WalMart.

This is absolutely ridiculous. Those of us who are responsible with their recycling are being punished for those who are not. Why not trying to better enforce litter rules rather than making everyone bring a reusable water bottle and get in line to fill it with foul-tasting water?
Another option would be that we all just bring sodas and beer--who needs water!

hey Anon., Merry Christmas, lol!

Check out Totally Green . there bottles are made from PLA. Not plastic . They are working on having the first fully compstable water bottle including the cap. This company cares about the earth and not just there pocket book like most. I hope every business switches to the earth frienldy water bottle. See website below.
WWW.Totally Green company that sells ORCA Green Machines to compost food waste and Compstable water bottles.

Lee - I think you mean "incentivize" Walmart. You see, by providing incentives for Walmart to come to town, the town gains substantial business and net revenues. Net-net it is ahead of where it would have been without Walmart. Now whether its fair to local small business is a valid question but its not a "subsidy".
On the other hand, government subsidizing the VOLT does not result in a net economic gain - merely a transfer of wealth with no meaningful benefit.

Isn't "incentivize" a political synonym for "subsidized?" Either way, it's using taxpayer money that could be available for other things. When I have to pay for water and sewer (two things provided free for WalMart -- among several others) and a big business doesn't, isn't that a form of subsidy?

At a reported figure (subsidy) of $250,000 per Volt paid by the American Taxpayer to seemingly very lucky political contributors or 1%ers (if you like).

Lee - incentive and subsidy are NOT synonomous. As I explained - with an incentive you come out ahead on a net basis. If you give free water and sewer to Walmart but they generate sales taxes 10x that amount you (as a city) come out ahead. If you give out the money with no benefit -i.e to subsidize a Chevy Volt- you come out behind.

But if you want to argue it that way, the Volt is "incentivized" by keeping a whole bunch of American factory workers working and corporate profits flowing. Anonymous above echoes my thoughts about this whole mess.

We could argue semantics all day and get nowhere. That's what Congress does and why we're in such a mess.

Anyway, have a great Christmas, Hannukah, Kwaanza or whatever!

" the Volt is "incentivized" by keeping a whole bunch of American factory workers working and corporate profits flowing."
Not really. It is taking money out of the system to pay for those subsidies. Falls under the broken window fallacy.
You too have a great holiday.