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."


A timely editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer was posted yesterday on the subject:

Re: the Philly editorial cited above - well said!

Is ec from LaVerkin, Utah, by any chance? (Google LaVerkin and see what you find.)

/887 tons just water bottles

An empty 16 oz water botle weights about .3 ounces. That means there are 53 per pound. 2000 pounds ( a ton) would be 106,000. 887 tons would be 94 million water bottles. With about 4.2 million visitors to the Grand Canyon that would be 22.5 water bottles per visitor deposited in Grand Canyon trash containers.

And you wonder why I ask for substantiation of your claims.

Jim - what do you think of those "stats"? You have to learn not to believe everything on face value.

Lee, never been to leVerkin but looks like a very nice place.

Ec - as to "stats" - after working at the Grand Canyon, I'd agree folks there can get mighty thirsty :-)

It's possible to debate numbers back and forth indefinitely, so I'll stand by what I said earlier is a key point: "Dealing with any such litter is a waste of time and resources that could be better used elsewhere."

It's possible to debate numbers back and forth indefinitely,

So, you won't admit to the absurdity of the numbers he sighted and you applauded?

Dealing with any such litter is a waste of time

So we should ban anything that could potential be litter? No candy bars, no food , no paper, plastic, glass, metal? Oh if it only saves one life - regardless of the consequences.

I think you'd fit in very well down there. Many kindred spirits for you to meet. :}

Lee, somehow I think you believe you are insulting me. I don't get the insult.

We had some good and bad water news in Utah today. Bad news - a lower than normal snowpack for the winter will leave our already low reservoirs lower. Gonna be a long, dry summer. Wildfires will be very interesting entertainment again this year.

Good news - our governor decided not to sign an agreement with the city of Las Vegas that would allow them to start work on a project to pump groundwater from the Snake Valley in Utah and the adjoining portion of Nevada. Las Vegas is growing rapidly and its supply from Lake Mead is shriveling along with the water level in the lake. They wanted to pump something like 130,000 acre feet of water annually with an option for even more to quench the thirst of their residents and casino fountains. Ranchers on both sides of the Utah / Nevada line are applauding Governor Herbert this evening. So, too, are the NPS people who try to protect Great Basin National Park. In such an arid area, replenishment of the aquifer is much too slow to allow that kind of extraction of water without destroying the valleys under which the water lies.

This has been a subject of great controversy for several years. The "agreement" was a very one-sided affair that grew somehow from some court actions. Refusing to sign it will probably toss the entire thing back into court. Meanwhile, the Utah militia in LaVerkin is preparing for any eventuality. Some folks think the United Nations may have influenced the governor's decision.

But all kidding aside, (well, sort of kidding. LaVerkin has a different mindset) this idea of pumping water from arid ranchlands to feed the mindless consumption of Sin City was never a good one. Especially when southern Utah's St. George is also growing. Growing so much, in fact, that the stalwarts down there who shout "cut government spending" one morning turn around the next day to seek approval of a tax-payer funded Federal appropriation to build a 200 mile pipeline from Lake Powell to bring more water to St. George. It's Utah's version of socialism: Socialize the expense. Privatize the profits.

Utah is the second driest state in the nation -- but has the highest per-capita water consumption of any of the others. Conservation is a word that is only now beginning to enter the vocabulary of a few citizens.

But here's an idea. Why not take all the bottled water that could no longer be sold in national parks and truck it to Las Vegas to pour into fountains or to St. George to be sprinkled on their Kentucky blue grass?

Lee, this may shock you, but I too condemn municipal expansion beyound the bounds that local, renewable water supplies can support. Denvers front range is sucking water out of their aquifers at a far greater rate then they are refilling yet the expansion continues at a blistering pace.

ecbuck the numbers I quoted were from a published article;

If they are wrong as you say, then thanks for being a fact checker. I would tend to believe that at a place where water is important, that it does make a lot of trash and could easily be 30% of all trash at the Grand Canyon. Making less trash still makes sense to most of us.


Mens Journal didn't cite a source and as my math showed, the numbers just aren't credible.

As to "less trash makes sense", such an opinion is meaningless in a vacuum. Every decision has benefits and COSTS!. You have to balance the two. What are the benefits of a ban? As was mentioned earlier, mostly symbolic and even then, it is symbolic of questionable goals. What are the costs? Inconvenience to millions of visitors who like bottled water, loss of revenues to the park, potentially pushing people to less healthy alternatives and who knows what other unintended consequences. Are those cost worth the nebulous benefits. Not in my opinion.

Oh, and by the way, the last time I stayed in a Grand Canyon accommodation, they had signs throughout the room saying "Don't drink the water". Like Mexico, it may be best to drink bottles rather from the tap when in the Grand Canyon.


What are the costs of a ban? Do you have figures that prove parks are losing revenues?

I wouldn't expect the parks to lose revenues, as I've pointed out before, because 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.

Where's the inconvenience to visitors? In fact, wouldn't this program be a benefit to visitors by saving them money in the long run by relying on reusable bottles and free water dispensed by the parks?

As to your math re number of bottles per pound, they seem a bit high according to some other calculations found on the Internet. Wiki Answers puts the number at 12 12-ounce bottles per pound, based on "Hawaii's segregated rates for beverage containers..based on California model." That translates to 24,000 bottles per ton, or 21.2 million per 887 tons. I would tend to agree that that's still an awful high number per person, and that a more detailed accounting from the park (how many 32 or 64 ounce bottles are involved?) would be great to have.

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, from not having to truck in all those cases of bottled water, from not having to keep it chilled.

As to the weight of empty plastic water bottles - and any other beverage container carelessly tossed out alongside roads and trails - anyone who has spent much time picking up such litter knows that "empty" bottles are not always empty, and therefore weigh more than expected.

My experience has been that quite a few are at least either partially full of or caked with mud, water, bugs and other "stuff." The ones that are really a delight to pick up are those that were "reused" as spittoons by the chewing tobacco crowd, a group which seems to be especially fond of tossing them out the window once they're full.

I'd guess the real issue with bottles in the trash isn't the weight, but the volume. It's doesn't take very long to fill up a trash bag or can with those bottles, and that certainly impacts the time and cost to collect and haul them away.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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!"

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.

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.