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Anxiety as Trump reverses plastic water bottle ban in National Parks

The US National Park Service, on the orders of President Donald Trump, on Wednesday, August 16, 2017 rescinded an Obama-era policy that allowed individual parks to ban bottled water sales on their grounds as a way to fight litter.

Plastic bottles National Parks
Disposal of waste plastic bottles. Photo credit: Al Goldis / Associated Press

Environmental organisations believed that the controversial 2011 policy that encouraged parks to eliminate the sale of bottled water would help reduce litter. But the park service announcement of the change said it would “expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks.”

Two dozen national parks had adopted the policy, or were in the process of doing so. They include Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Zion National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The ban was part of President Obama’s Green Parks Plan to promote the use of tap water and refillable bottles on federal lands, reduce waste and curb carbon emissions.

To keep visitors hydrated, the Park Service has installed new fresh drinking water stations.

Trump’s decision comes just three weeks after the Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as deputy interior secretary. Bernhardt is a former lobbyist with a law firm that has represented water bottlers in the United States. Bernhardt’s confirmation was opposed by some senators because his work on behalf of corporate interests contradicts Interior Department regulations to promote clean air and water.

Earlier, the National Park Service said the ban was based on “the 50 billion plastic water bottles” disposed of by Americans each year and the “approximately 20 billion barrels of oil” required during production generating greenhouse gases. Disposable plastic bottles make up 20% of the Grand Canyon’s waste stream and 30% of the park’s recyclables.

But given the choice, people will choose reusable bottles whenever they can. For example, Zion National Park reports that its sale of reusable bottles increased 78 percent once it banned bottled-water sales.

The Earth Day Network, a not-for-profit group, has expressed concern over the development, going by a recent campaign aimed at impressing it upon President Trump that US National Parks should be free of single use plastic water bottles.

The group states: “Plastic waste is choking our planet and creating a global health crisis. In 2015, the world created 448 million tons of plastic – more than twice as much as made in 1998. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050.

“Approximately 91% of plastic made before 2015 has not been recycled. Our landfills are overflowing with plastic waste, and our recycling centers are overburdened and underequipped to properly repurpose the plastics being recycled. As these systems fail, more and more plastic waste ends up in the streets, rivers, beaches, and eventually the oceans, causing untold harm to plant and animal life the world over.”

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