Weston: Water bottle policy wont solve problems with litter in national parks

Tyler Weston

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

With all the insanity that seems to take over the news these days, a story about recycling and litter can sometimes slip under the radar. This past week, President Trump reversed an optional plastic water bottle ban in national parks. The policy, which was introduced in 2011, allowed individual parks to remove the option of disposable plastic water bottles from sale at park vendors. While people argue over the politics of the situation, I fear most of us are missing the point, the ban was an ineffective policy.

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The bottle ban could only be implemented after an extensive cost/benefit sort of analysis had been done. Along with that report, parks would have to mitigate a primary concern of many of the bills’ opponents, dehydration. Due to loss of revenue among other concerns, not many of our national parks participated in this optional ban. In fact, only 23 of our nations’ 417 national parks participated in the optional litter reduction measure, Grand Canyon National Park being one of them. Included in the parks’ pitch were ten new water filling stations at popular trail-heads and reusable bottles available for a cost comparable to the cost of a single disposable water bottle.

President Trump has received mixed reviews since his election. Some have hailed the decision to remove the ban as a victory for personal freedom, while others feel it is a potentially devastating blow to environmental policy.

The truth is, repealing the ban is a minimal measure, primarily because it was as ineffective as it was misguided. While this bill has been heavily contested by the bottled water industry makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, it was absolutely within reason to remove this nonsensical bit of policy. One of loudest criticisms of the ban was that it left visitors without the healthiest beverage option available, that only left sugary soft-drinks and alcoholic beverages available for those uninterested in a refillable bottle.

Another frequently mentioned concern was the perceived increase in risk of dehydration for park guests. Both of those are reasonable concerns to raise against a ban that also failed to restrict the amount of disposable bottles that could be brought in from outside the park, not to mention the miscellaneous garbage that represents the 80 percent of park litter that is composed of something other than plastic water bottles.

With everything on the table, all pros and cons considered, the only way to make a truly impactful change in the litter issue is a cultural shift. In a society where Americans consume three pounds of sugar a week on average, collectively purchase 12.8 billion gallons of bottled water, and the average person generates about four pounds of waste per day the kind of drastic changes needed would never survive the public outcry that would immediately ensue.

We have lost our sense in a world driven by convenience where nothing much matters beyond the satisfaction of our immediate needs and cravings. The freedom of choice is arguably one of the more defining traits of American idealism, policy that limits that will always be fought viciously and for good reasons. Our greatest chance of preserving life on this battered planet is to acknowledge and take full ownership of our mistakes. When we find ourselves ready to do that and begin adapting to a different way of living, positive change can be had.

Columnist Tyler Weston can be reached at letters@collegian.com.