Always Coca-Cola? Yes, and Plastic Water Bottles are Forever

Corporation Blocks Grand Canyon Bottle Ban

GCI’ve never been to the Grand Canyon but it’s on my list. When I get there, I hope I will be so enthralled with the majesty of the canyon that I am not distracted by plastic bottle litter behind every creosote and juniper.

But a recent reversal by the National Park Service makes this prospect less likely.

Weary of plastic litter, Grand Canyon National Park officials were in the final stages of imposing a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in the Grand Canyon late last year when the nation’s parks chief abruptly blocked the plan after conversations with Coca-Cola, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.

Disposable plastic water bottles are a scourge like few others. By the numbers:

  • 30% — the largest single source — of all the waste at Grand Canyon National Park is plastic bottles
  • 1.5 Million barrels of oil are used to make bottled water in the United States each year
  • A single 1-liter water bottle takes 6.74 gallons of water to produce and is responsible for the emission of 1.2 pounds of greenhouse gases
  • 4 out of 5 plastic drink bottles are not recycled
  • The oceans are being transformed into floating landfills, as garbage swills including the Pacific Gyre, or the Great Garbage Patch, multiply. This Texas-sized trash clump is comprised of 3.5 million tons of trash, largely plastic bottles and caps.
  • 60,000 fewer plastic water bottles were eliminated in Zion National Park in Utah in 2008 alone, following the first year of a ban there

A final number might be tipping the scales away from sane policies: the $13 million that Coca-Cola donated. Park officials bristle at the suggestion that money is a factor, and Coke claims it’s a more libertarian issue.

A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Susan Stribling, said the company would rather help address the plastic litter problem by increasing the availability of recycling programs. “Banning anything is never the right answer,” she said. “If you do that, you don’t necessarily address the problem.” She also characterized the bottle ban as limiting personal choice. “You’re not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume,” she said.

If you would rather see people using refillable water stations at the Grand Canyon than pitching empty plastic bottles behind the nearest pinyon pine, sign the petition at Change.org. They’ll send your thoughts to Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service.

And to help enjoy the view from your computer, here are April and Andy.

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