The Grand Canyon Bans Sales of Bottled Water

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Within a month, the National Park Service will ban the sales of plastic water bottles in the Grand Canyon park, a move that might annoy both swarms of not-so sustainable-minded tourists and maybe some Coca-Cola representatives.

The ban has been in the works for a while. Last November, the New York Times reported that the progress on eliminating plastic -bottle litter was halted in part because the Coca-Cola company, which had donated $13 million to the parks, was concerned. Apparently, they didn’t want tourists to be kept from chugging their company’s Dasani water. A month later, the bottle ban lurched forward, but with restrictions that would detail the effect on concessions revenue in parks.

This week, the Park Service pulled the trigger on the ban in the Grand Canyon. Disposable water bottles, which comprise 20% of the waste stream in the park, will be barred from being sold in-park within the next 30 days, a news release stated. Tourists who don’t constantly carry Nalgenes will have the option of purchasing reusable bottles at concession stands (for what seems like a very low price of $1.99).

(MORE: Study: America’s National Parks Keep Falling Apart)

And there’ll be free water refilling stations. Hopefully enough to serve the huge influx of tourists that treks to the park every year in extended SUV trips.

Steve Martin, the former parks superintendent, framed as a way to aspire to sustainability. “It isn’t so much anti-water bottle as it is pro-conservation,” he told the Arizona Republic after the recent announcement. “There are many parts of the world where bottles are the only way to get good water to people, but when you have a choice to do something better, let’s do it.”

In theory, the ban sounds like progress. But what about the other 80% of litter that gets strewn about the park — those Clif bar wrappers, Chex-Mix bags or paper napkins? Perhaps the bottle ban can be thought of in the same light as the switch to those green-colored grocery store tote bags: it’s symbolism, but it’s a start.