It was ugly. It was public. And it involved controversy over whose park it is anyway, Coca-Cola’s or ours, but in a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers.
The ban on less-than-one-gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is aimed at eliminating the single biggest source of litter in the park; discarded plastic bottles account for about 30 percent of the Grand Canyon’s total waste.
The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis decided last November to halt the plan at the eleventh hour. But that raised a huge ruckus because internal sources let leak that this intervention was a little too closely timed with a complaint by Coca-Cola directly to Jarvis. Coke is a big corporate donor to the National Parks Foundation. And in a statement late last year a Coke spokeswoman voiced opposition to the outright ban. Whether Coke’s complaint to the NPF or to Jarvis had anything to do with the delay in implementation or not, it sure looked bad, and both current and former NPS officials and workers worried loudly about corporate influence.
Park Service officials said they weren’t bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of a bottled water ban. They wanted to consider how a ban might affect the safety of visitors, not just to Grand Canyon but also to Arches and Canyonlands.
As for the wider impact now that the ban will go through, there are two parks with bottled-water bans already, Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes.
At Hawaii Volcanoes, where the cooperating association decided to stop selling disposable bottles, the association estimated it will gross $80,000 a year in reusable bottle sales and will net a profit. At Zion, concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which came up with the idea of banning disposable water bottle sales, lost $25,000 in 2009-10. However, the move at Zion reduced the waste stream by roughly 5,000 pounds annually and cut energy consumption in the visitor center by about 10 percent during 2009-2010.