Should the National Parks Ban Disposable Water Bottle Sales? A New Bill Aims to Help Do That.

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A new bill aims to cut plastic waste by restricting the sale of disposable water bottles in the national parks, reinstituting an Obama-era rule that lapsed in 2017.

Originally introduced in 2019, the Reducing Waste in National Parks Act would give the National Park Service’s regional directors the authority to take action to recycle and reduce the use of single-use water bottles in their parks, up to and including banning their sale. In a press release, Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), the bill’s sponsor, wrote that he was inspired to reintroduce the bill after an “eye-opening” three-day climate change tour of Acadia National Park.

“Too often, single-use plastics end up polluting national parks and clogging our waterways. When they build up along trails and streams, they pose a severe threat to the plants and animals living there,” Quigley wrote. “By addressing the issue of plastic waste, we are not only helping ourselves and the planet but all the creatures that we share this planet with. This is common-sense legislation that if enacted and signed into law, will ensure that our natural wonders are around for generations to come.” Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a parallel version of the bill into the Senate.

The Narrows in Zion National Park is a section of canyon on the North Fork of the Virgin River. The hike of The Narrows is one of the premier hikes on the Colorado Plateau. (Photo: Bas Vermolen/Moment via Getty Images)

The bill would essentially reinstate a similar program put into place in 2011, which resulted in a ban on disposable water bottle sales in 23 national parks, including Zion. Officials there said they were able to eliminate 60,000 single-use water bottles throughout the participating national parks by selling affordable reusable bottles and installing filling stations.

In 2017, the Interior Department revoked that rule shortly after David Bernhardt’s confirmation as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The move caused a minor controversy when publications including The Washington Post noted that Bernhardt had formerly worked for and been a shareholder in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a lobbying and law firm that represented Nestlé Waters, one of the largest bottled water brands in the United States. In a statement, Nestlé categorically denied that it had influenced the National Park Service to repeal its ban. Bernhardt went on to serve as Secretary of the Interior after his predecessor Ryan Zinke’s resignation.