First posted on 12-21-2011
Hikers and campers take note. National park superintendents may stop you from bringing disposable plastic bottles onto park property. Last week, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a directive that empowers superintendents to ban those bottles on a case by case basis.
But issuing a proclamation is not a simple matter. Officials must first conduct a series of rather extensive studies. Superintendents have to determine how much litter a bottle ban will eliminate from the park, the costs of installation and maintenance on water filling stations, and what impact a decree might have on the revenues of concessionaires or cooperative associations, which includes any contractual obligations. Plus, the park managers have to consult with the service’s Public Health Office, and they have to take into account the safety of visitors who might resort to drinking water “from surface water sources with potential exposure to disease,” or those that fail to pack in enough water to sustain them on lengthy hikes.
Once the study is complete, superintendents must submit a written request to regional directors for approval.
Director Jarvis wrote: “Sustainability is a signature effort for the National Park Service. We must be a visible exemplar of sustainability, so it’s important that we move our sustainability program forward as an organization. While superintendents need some discretion to tailor implementation to local situations, it is not the purview of any one park to set policy.”
In his directive, Jarvis noted adherence to the Park Service’s Green Parks Plan, an effort to reduce waste significantly by 2016, the year the agency celebrates its centennial.
In correspondence with the field, Jarvis cited concerns about less healthy choices visitors might make if a water bottle ban is instituted: “Banning the sale of water bottles in national parks has great symbolism, but runs counter to our healthy food initiative as it eliminates the healthiest choice for bottled drinks, leaving sugary drinks as a primary alternative. A ban could pose challenges for diabetics and others with health issues who come to a park expecting bottled water to be readily available.”
Jarvis also noted other concerns: “For parks without access to running water, filling stations for reusable bottles are impractical. A ban could affect visitor safety; proper hydration is key to planning a safe two-hour hike or a multi-day backcountry excursion. Even reasonably priced reusable water bottles may be out of reach for some visitors, especially those with large families.”
He pressed for the parks to adopt recycling programs as well as educational programs that encourage visitors to reduce their dependence on plastic bottles, and called for bans “where appropriate.”
Jarvis allowed that parks which have already instituted bottle bans may keep them, but must justify those bans in writing to regional directors. The written reviews have to show the impacts imposed by the ban.
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