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Un-bottling Water

Originally published by Earth Island Journal on 03/01/2016

The majestic half-dome of Yosemite. The psychedelic-colored hot springs of Yellowstone. The jaw-dropping ravines of the Grand Canyon…. Piles of plastic water bottles? Until recently, all of these – yes, plastic bottles included – could be considered iconic of our nation’s national parks. In the Grand Canyon alone, the park was recycling more than 900 tons of bottles a year, including plastic ones. But thanks to people-powered change, an estimated 75 national parks –about one quarter of the nation’s total – have now joined the movement to go plastic bottled-water free.

The idea seems like common sense – and it is. Plastic water bottles create litter in our nation’s parks. And the production of the 50 billion plastic water bottles used every year in the United States, including in our nation’s parks, is a major environmental problem. As more and more national parks have kicked out plastic bottles, they’ve also found that adding water stations has increased access to water for visitors, promoting that all-important thing: hydration.

But commonsense has a way of being perceived as anything but when it cuts into the profits of one of the biggest industries in the world: bottled water companies. When advocates started pushing for a ban on bottled water, the industry fought back big time. Through its trade group, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the industry fought the parks’ attempts to ban bottled water, even adding a rider last year to a Congressional appropriations bill. The rider, sponsored by Republican Representative Keith Rothfus, would have made it illegal for the National Park Service to spend federal dollars to implement or maintain bans on the sale of bottled water at any national park. (It seems no coincidence that Rothfus is cozy with the industry: Before proposing this rider, he had received a $1,000 contribution from the IBWA’s trade group and was a featured speaker at an IBWA event.)

The advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, along with 19 other organizations, 30 members of Congress, and more than 350,000 people, worked together to call on Congress to b