Bottled Water Returns to National Parks


One of the easiest ways to be more sustainable in your everyday life is to carry reusable water bottles and reusable coffee mugs. It's a pretty simple thing - spend less than $10 on a reusable water bottle, wash it every few days, and you never need to buy another single-use plastic bottle of water again.

The arguments for using a reusable water bottle are pretty compelling. It was estimated by the Pacific Institute that in 2006, Americans bought a total of 31.2 billion liters of water. To produce just the bottles for those 31.2 billion liters of water it required 17 million barrels of oil. Bottling the 31.2 billion liters of water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. That's a lot of oil used and carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere - and we haven't even accounted for the energy cost and carbon footprint of transportation. To be completely fair, the carbon footprint of creating one bottle of bottled water is lower than creating a reusable bottle - but once you take into account the fact that you will be reusing your reusable bottle many times over it becomes the vastly more sustainable choice.

Unfortunately, these arguments were not enough to convince President Trump of the importance of reducing bottled water sales. Yesterday, the Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds announced that they are reversing the restriction on bottled water sales that was put into place in 2011. The original policy did not completely ban bottled water, but 23 out of the 417 national parks did restrict bottled water sales and encouraged visitors to use tap water and reusable bottles instead.

Acting National Park Service Director Reynolds justified this policy reversal by saying that "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." The National Park Service has said that restricting bottled water sales leaves families with limited healthy hydration options, since sugary sodas and sweetened drinks were still sold in national park stores. What they're failing to also mention is that in almost every single national park store I've been to there are water fountains and reusable water bottles for sale. It sure seems to me like if visitors really wanted to choose the healthy option and drink water, it's pretty easy for them to do so.

The real story here is how and why this policy was reversed. It seems like a fairly small, low-stakes, policy for the current administration to be spending their time on. Of course, it's not low-stakes to everyone. Especially the bottled water industry. About three weeks before this policy was reversed, David Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate as our new deputy interior secretary. Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which represented Nestlé Waters. Nestlé has, of course, disputed the conflict of interest and promised that claims of influence are "categorically false" and that nobody at the General Council's office at Nestlé "has ever met or spoken to Mr. Bernhardt." Regardless of their claims, many Democratic senators called Bernhardt a "walking conflict of interest" during his confirmation hearing and I think the timing certainly calls him into question. It's also important to note that the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is on the record as having directly lobbied the Department of the Interior in both the first and second quarters of 2017. I don't believe that President Trump's administration would have spent their time reversing a policy reducing bottled water sales in National Parks without significant outside influence and lobbying, and the evidence supporting this is clear.

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