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."