Grand Canyon goes green, bans plastic bottles

Kalie Swails


Sunrises over the south rim of the Grand Canyon will soon illuminate not only ancient layers of red rock, but a greener park as well.

Within one month, the Grand Canyon National Park will terminate the sale of bottled water under a plan to improve park sustainability, approved by the National Park Service Intermountain Regional Director, John Wessels.

The park’s ban on individual disposable containers of less than one gallon aims to reduce waste associated with disposable bottles, which comprise an estimated 20 percent of the park’s overall waste and 30 percent of the park’s recyclables. Grand Canyon National Park, which receives about 4.5 million visitors a year, has experienced increasing plastic bottle litter both on the rim and within the inner canyon, defacing canyon viewpoints and visitor experiences.

The park’s ban, announced last week, is in accordance with a new policy issued by NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on Dec. 14, 2011. This policy is an initiative of the Green Parks Plan (GPP), a comprehensive plan to address greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use, construction practices and reduction of waste within the entire National Park System.

Under the new policy, national parks are to implement a plan to recycle and reduce disposable plastic water bottles. Parks have the option of eliminating disposable water bottle sales completely, following an analysis of factors ranging from the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable water containers and the cost of installing water stations to possible public safety risks.

“Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability,” Wessels said in a statement. “I feel confident that the impacts to park concessioners and partners have been given fair consideration and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public.”

Wessels assured the safety and comfort of visitors to the Grand Canyon will continue to be met within the park, which has installed a dozen free spring-water stations where visitors can fill reusable water containers. Reusable water containers will be available for purchase within the park for visitors who do not bring their own.

This plan follows a petition signed by almost 100,000 people urging Jarvis to ban bottles from national parks nationwide. The petition was organized by 5 Gyres, a non-profit organization which researches the impact of plastic pollution in waterways, and

“I put my faith in the superintendents of the parks because they are the people on the ground dealing with pollution firsthand,” 5 Gyres spokesperson Stiv Wilson told the Associated Press. “People get into that position because they love the space they’re working in. Giving the power back to those people is a very positive development.”

Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks have already implemented bans on disposable plastic bottles and a dozen other national parks, including Yellowstone, Death Valley and Yosemite, are considering implementing similar bans. Outdoor activists hope a ban in the Grand Canyon will set an example for parks nationwide.