Natural Society

National Park Bottled Water “Ban” Reversed By Trump Administration

The news is awash with fire and brimstone warnings about plastic pollution, both on land and at sea. To help battle back against the trillions of pieces of plastic littering the planet, the National Park Service put a policy in place in 2011 encouraging national parks to end the sale of bottled water. It wasn’t an outright ban, but 23 out of 417 national parks went on to restrict bottled water sales. In mid-August 2017, the Trump Administration reversed the Obama-era policy.

The policy was rolled back “in close consultation with Department of Interior leadership,” the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) said in a statement. [2]

Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds said in a statement:

“While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.” [1]

The ban surely reduced some of the plastic litter plaguing national parks, but aspects of the policy made little sense. The 23 national parks that stopped selling bottled water continued to sell bottles of sweetened drinks, so the policy basically zeroed in on 1 source of pollution while essentially ignoring other sources, and made it impossible for visitors to those particular parks to purchase a healthy beverage option.

Jill Culora, vice president of IBWA, said:

“The rescinded policy was seriously flawed.”

The parks that banned the sale of bottled water tried to make up for it by spending millions installing water stations.

The policy was established to reduce waste, Culora said, but “people coming to the parks that banned the sale of bottled water were still allowed to buy other less healthy beverages – including carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, teas, milk, beer, and wine – that are packaged in much heavier plastic, glass, cans, and cardboard containers.”

Visitors were also allowed to carry food wrapped in plastic into the parks. [2]

Read: This is Why We Need to Stop Using Plastic (Infographic)

The bottled water policy encouraged visitors to use water fountains and bring refillable bottles to quench their thirst. The park service says it is discontinuing the policy to give visitors more hydration options.

In a statement, the National Park Service said:

“The change in policy comes after a review of the policy’s aims and impact in close consultation with Department of the Interior leadership.” [1]

Still, every little bit of conservation helps. In a statement, the Sierra Club’s public lands policy director, Athan Manuel, said:

“actions that roll back protections on our National Parks and public lands only move our country backward — putting the importance of local economies, wildlife and communities on the back burner.”

The Sierra Club noted that the bottled water ban in national parks was intended to increase sustainability and cut carbon emissions.

Read: Plastic Bottles Could Lead to Environmental Crisis, Scientists Warn

And the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability International (CAI) pointed out that the Trump Administration recently appointed a deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior who previously was employed by a law firm that has represented one of the nation’s largest bottled water companies.

David Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate as deputy interior secretary only weeks ago. He is a former lobbyist with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has represented Nestlé Waters, the distributor of the Deer Park brand. [2]

Nestlé is notorious for its former chairman and CEO, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who in 2013 said that drinking water is a not a human right and should be privatized.

Jesse Bragg, spokesperson for CAI, said in a statement:

“The [bottled-water] industry has lobbied Congress to block this policy for years.” [1]

Bragg added that this is an “example of the industry pulling the strings behind the scenes to protect is profits.”

Sources:

[1] NPR

[2] The Washington Post