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Bottled Water Industry Pushes Back Against Drive To Phase Their Product Out Of National Parks


A week after a campaign was mounted to encourage the National Park Service to phase bottled water out of the parks, the bottled water industry pushed back a bit, saying to do so would encourage visitors to turn to unhealthy alternatives to quench their thirsts.

In a release Tuesday the International Bottled Water Association said "(E)fforts to eliminate or reduce access to bottled water in our national parks will force consumers to choose less healthy drink options that have more packaging, more additives (e.g., sugar, caffeine), and greater environmental impacts than bottled water."

According to the group, research shows that in the absence of bottled water products, "63 percent of people will choose soda or another sugared drink – not tap water."

"We expect the same consumer response if access to bottled water is restricted in our national parks," said the group in the release. "And such a response will therefore not likely reduce the presence of plastic bottles within the recycling streams of our national parks."

Corporate Accountability International, a non-profit that works to encourage cleaner environmental habits, last week sent representatives to Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Independence Hall National Historical Park, and Mount Rainier National Park with over-sized postcards encouraging park officials to commit to phasing out bottled water.

Kristin Urquiza, who oversees the "Outside the Bottle and Public Works Compaign" for Corporate Accountability International, says more parks need to follow Zion, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Grand Canyon national parks in phasing out the sale of disposable water bottles.

To get more parks to phase-out bottled water, the non-profit has been working with stakeholders in and out of national parks, including concessionaires, "to help give Park Service (superintendents) the support they need to really move forward on implementing a 'bottled-water-free' policy in their parks," she said.

While none of the four parks has given "firm commitments" to moving forward with a ban, said Ms. Urquiza, talks have been ongoing to examine the feasibility of such a ban.

"The real exciting feedback that we've been getting is that water in the parks is an incredibly important issue for superintendents," she said. "They want to figure out how to minimize the amount of waste, to promote public water."

But the water bottlers say Americans want bottled water. "Consumers choose bottled water for several reasons, including its refreshing taste, reliable quality, zero calories and additives, and convenience," the organization said. "In fact, since 1998, approximately 73 percent of the growth in bottled water consumption has come from people switching from carbonated soft drinks, juices, and milk to bottled water.

"Banning or restricting access to bottled water in the marketplace, including within national parks, directly impacts the right of people to choose the healthiest beverage on the shelf. And for many, bottled water is a critical alternative to other packaged beverages, which are often less healthy. Bottled water must therefore be available wherever packaged beverages are sold."

The group does support ongoing efforts to "further increase the availability of clean, safe drinking water in national parks, cities, towns, on college campuses, in the work place, and at home should be encouraged. This, in fact, complements the National Park Services’ own ongoing healthy foods initiative. Bottle refilling stations and water fountains throughout national parks and communities are an excellent opportunity to help promote healthy hydration. But access to bottled water is also a key component of this effort and should not be discouraged, prohibited, or overlooked when discussing water’s role in a healthier lifestyle."


Thanks for the info about Lake Mead, Rick B.

We just posted a story about that on the Traveler :-) It's on the home page now, or here's the link, so maybe follow-up comments can go with the current story.

Very, very interesting Goddess. Very interesting indeed. And I'll bet this is not unique to Grand Canyon. I have pretty much the same experience hiking the trails in the mountains above Ogden, Utah. Close to the trailheads, there are often a number of beer cans. Seems that Bud Lite is the favorite for our "hikers" here. Farther from the trailheads, however, water bottles seem to predominate. I think I'll start carrying a little notebook and keep track for awhile.

I don't think I've ever returned from a hike around here without having a few hitch hikers in my pack.

An unscientific statistic: I work at Grand Canyon and I hike the main trails almost every day. Before the bottled water ban, I would pick up at least a dozen empty bottles a week. Now I get perhaps three. And most of the bottles are in fact water bottles: not gatorade, soda, or beer bottles.

Fun factoid: about a year ago before the ban, I found an empty gatorade bottle half full of mud. I left it in the sun to dry so I could pick it up on my way back out in an hour or so. When I got back to the bottle, three empty water bottles were leaning against it. Like, "Oh, good, here is where we can leave our bottles!"

Not that I hike, but how many serious hikers really use water bottles? Everybody that goes out for some extended hike is probably using an hydration pack.

I sure wish I had as much time to waste as some folks do in opposing anything that seems to sensible in even the slightest way. Maybe it's some kind of compulsive behavior.

Wanna bet that had our friend been around in the late fifties and early sixties he'd have been arguing against the theory of plate tectonics? Wonder what he thinks of Darwin's ideas?

So Jim,Rather than penalizing all those people that responsibly dispose of their plastic bottles, why don't we put on a deposit and use the unrefunded money (i.e. money from the irresponsible) to pay for the clean up? Makes perfect sense - if litter is really the issue.

Another option would be to estimate the cost of disposal (which is likely less than a penny a bottle) and ask the consessionaire to contribute that to a "disposal fund". Again, it solves your complaint without the downsides of a ban. Makes perfect sense - if the cost of disposal is really the issue.

it's the concessionaires that sell the water, and they can replace any lost sales of bottled water with increased sales of bottled juices, sodas, etc, as well as those of reusable water bottles.

So if they replace the plastic bottled water with other plastic bottled products, what does the ban accomplish? Further, if that could be accomplished, why would they want to sell bottled water? That would just be one more inventory item with no incremental profit. Common business sense tells you they sell the water because they make a higher profit than if they didn't sell bottled water. And either the NPS gets a percentage of the sales and/or they collect a fee from the consessionier. They higher their potential profit, the high fee they will be willing to bid. Ergo, lower profits for the consessionier means lower fees to the park.

Where's the inconvenience to visitors?

These visitors are voluntarily buying millions of bottles a year. They do it because they find it convenient versus carrying water in or refilling non plastic bottles, both of which the currently can do. Taking plastic bottles away would be an inconvenience to them.

they seem a bit high according to some other calculations

Go buy a postage scale and do what I did. Drink a bottle of water and weigh the remainder. You can do the math from there.

That said, I would argue that hiking down a trail and not encountering trash such as discarded water bottles or candy wrappers is not a nebulous benefit, nor are the savings from not having park staff picking up litter

Not only would it not be nebulous, it wouldn't be a benefit at all. Stopping the sale of plastic water bottles in the park is unlikely to have any material impact on litter, especially as you note the likelihood of visitors switching to other products in plastic bottles or bringing in water bottles of their own.

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