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National Park Service scraps 2011 policy banning sale of disposable water bottles

According to a press release sent out by the National Park Service (NPS) on Wednesday, the NPS is scrapping a 2011 policy referred to as the “Water Bottle Ban,” which encouraged national parks to eliminate the sale of disposable water bottles.

Put into effect in December of 2011, Policy Memorandum 11-03 encouraged national parks and national park sites to end the sale of disposable water bottles in an effort to reduce the National Park Service’s carbon footprint and to increase the sustainability of all parks and sites.

In place of disposable water bottles, visitors would be encouraged to use reusable water bottles and water filling stations.

Wednesday’s press release explains the reasoning behind the decision:

“The 2011 policy, which encouraged national parks to eliminate the sale of disposable water bottles, has been rescinded to expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks. The ban removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks. The change in policy comes after a review of the policy's aims and impact in close consultation with Department of the Interior leadership.”

Only 23 national parks and national park sites of the 417 had implemented the ban on selling plastic water bottles. The process for a park to totally ban plastic water bottle sales was lengthy. Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Mount Rushmore and Arches National Park had been part of those 23.

It is not clear why selling bottled sugary drink alternatives had continued while parks were given the option to stop selling bottled water. A concern specifically named in the 2011 memo was that those who did not bring their own water or were not willing to purchase a reusable water bottle would instead go without water, a dangerous prospect.

"While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, 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, particularly during hot summer visitation periods," said Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds in Wednesday’s press release.

As for what comes next, the release states that “parks will continue to promote the recycling of disposable plastic water bottles and many parks have already worked with partners to provide free potable water in bottle filling stations located at visitor centers and near trailheads.”

While health and safety were cited as considerations in the press release, revenue from water bottle sales was not mentioned. However, disposable water bottle sales in the U.S. continue to break records.

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