When the National Park Service (NPS) decided to ban the sale of bottled water at concessions in the Grand Canyon, it was hailed as a smart way to reduce solid waste in the park. But according to a string of recently released emails, the plan was put on hold after Coca-Cola and other beverage industry representatives asked to be included in the discussions.
The emails (two sets of emails online here and here) involved discussions between various people at the NPS and were released through a Freedom of Information Act request by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Access to Water in the Grand Canyon
The plan was to ban sales of bottled water at the Grand Canyon concessions, but not to prevent people from bringing their own. Anyone who feels they need bottled water would still be allowed to bring their own from home.
Since visitors to the Grand Canyon spend time in a desert environment, access to water is important. To ensure enough drinking water for everyone, the park system spent $300,000 installing drinking fountains and filling stations throughout the park. Reusable water bottles are also for sale at the park.
Zion National Park and the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park both banned bottled water sales with no ill effects.
Content of the Emails
It’s important to note that the emails are not from anyone in the bottled water industry – they’re all between NPS employees, although they contain references to conversation with industry people.
The notes indicate that Coca-Cola wanted to prevent the ban and offered to do things like install recycling bins, haul water to filling stations, and perhaps use a bottle made partially of plant products.
All are good ideas, but the problem remains that much of the Grand Canyon is inaccessible and once the plastic bottle garbage gets out there, it stays. The less garbage sold by the parks system, the less cost to the parks to clean it up, and the less damage done to the tourist views and the ecosystem.
Is There a Need for Bottled Water?
The bottled water industry is highly profitable. Many brands of bottled water are simply tap water. The company pays as much for the water as the local citizens pay, usually pennies per thousand gallons, and charges $2 or more per twelve ounce bottle.
With accessible drinking fountains and reusable water bottles, an expensive disposable bottle of tap water is unnecessary. The NPS can meet the needs of the visitors. They shouldn’t have to be concerned with the profits of corporations.
Image courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS