Opinion: Plastic bottles don’t belong in our national parks

Jessica Klodnicki, general manager of CamelBak, explains why ending bottled water bans at some national parks is reckless.
By Jessica Klodnicki,
Jessica Klodnicki, general manager of CamelBak.

Last month, the Department of the Interior abruptly ended a six-year-old ban on the sale of bottled water at some of our largest National Parks. The intention of the original ban was simple: allow parks to opt-in to a process to eliminate the sale of single-use plastic bottles within their park, easing plastic pollution and the huge amount of waste created by plastic bottles. Prior to this reversal, 23 parks had already put this process into place.

Take Utah’s Zion National Park as an example. When park administration implemented a ban on plastic bottles, 5,000 pounds of plastic water bottle waste was reduced and the park experienced a 78% increase in the sale of reusable bottles. And more, the reusable water bottles purchased at Zion’s were likely used beyond the trip, continuing to offset the use of disposal bottles well beyond park boundaries.

For over a decade, CamelBak has led a mission to “Ditch Disposable," reducing the use of plastic that ends up in landfills and pollutes our oceans. In this time, our industry has rallied behind this mission. By simply swapping a disposable bottle for a reusable one, individuals are able to take a stand, advocate for our environment, and stay hydrated all at once. In addition to the environmental benefits, carrying a reusable bottle or hydration pack can even keep you better hydrated, serving as a constant reminder to hydrate and refill when empty.

For every six water bottles purchased by Americans, only one is recycled. The other five end up in landfills, where they sit for more than a thousand years waiting to decompose. This can be offset by the use of a reusable bottle, which after using for just one month, can keep an average of 18 disposable water bottles out of landfills.

This is especially important as use of our national parks peaked for a third straight year in 2016 with more than 331 million visitors. With this influx and enthusiasm towards some of our country’s most treasured destinations, it is more important than ever to responsibly recreate within these travel hub, both as consumers and as business and community leaders.

We have sent a letter formally requesting that the Department of the Interior revoke this misguided decision. Given the widely available research about the impact of plastic bottles on our environment, we should be finding new and creative ways to keep visitors healthy and hydrated, not taking away the process that empowered parks to provide the much needed hydration education and water refill stations in our parks.

The National Park System has enjoyed record growth during recent years and a continued focus on sustainability, visitor experience, and budgets are needed and healthy. That said, reversing the Water Bottle Memo was unnecessary and reinforces an outdated, uninformed expectation that we need disposal plastic bottles to stay hydrated. We know better than this and are calling on the American people to reject this step backwards.

We encourage you to take a moment to submit feedback to the Department of the Interior voicing your concern about the unmistakable damage plastic bottles have on our environment--damage that will be felt not just today but for generations to come. And take a stand in your daily lives. The next time you’re at a National Park, bring your reusable water bottle or hydration pack and stay hydrated while you explore, adventure and embrace some of America’s greatest wonders.

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