Watering Down Our National Parks

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When it comes to bottled
water, cash-strapped parks have been putting Coca-Cola’s interests ahead of the
common good. Now, a growing coalition is demanding change.

The National Park Service (NPS), like
most Americans these days, is broke. Unlike the
rest of us, it has corporations like Coca-Cola whispering promises of money in
its ear–money that parks desperately need to staff, maintain, and protect the
grounds. But there’s one thing the public has learned about corporations: they
don’t give without asking for something in return.

For Coke, “donating” a
fraction of a percent of its revenue (roughly .0013%) keeps its Dasani bottled
water for sale in parks and buys the exclusive right to use park logos in advertisements.
As marketing schemes go, it’s brilliant. Coke greens its image, turns a profit
in the park, and writes it all off at tax time. Since August of 2011, the
National Park Service has been working on a
billion dollar corporate-financed endowment
, and Coke has been in on the
plans since the initial fundraising summit.

But the deal might not stay this
sweet for long. Watchdog group Corporate
Accountability International
is leading a coalition pushing national parks
like Yosemite, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mt.
Rainier, and the Liberty Bell’s Independence Hall National
Historic Park
to nix bottled water. Instead, park-goers will use their own bottles to refill
at taps. 

“Coke
and the bottled water industry are using one national treasure to profit from
another at the public’s expense,” says Kristin Urquiza, director of Corporate
Accountability International’s Think
Outside the Bottle
campaign. She continues, “Water, like our parks, is not
for sale.”

Whether or not that sounds
like a battle cry, it might be. Back in 2011, Coke attempted to block a
ban on bottled water
in Grand
Canyon National Park.
The park hesitated but followed through with the ban, reducing its waste stream
by 20 percent–500 tons a year. It also cut the cost of recycling removal by
30 percent, estimates the NPS Branch Chief of Sustainable Operations and Climate
Change.

This week, groups representing
more than 150 organizations and 40,000 park-goers are delivering petitions to
park superintendents across the country, asking that they stop selling water in
plastic bottles. In San Francisco,
the president of the city’s Board of Supervisors, David Chin–along with the
executive director of the Sierra Club’s Bay chapter and celebrity rock climbers
Alex Honnold and Hans Florine–will deliver that request in the form of a three-by-five-foot
postcard.

“The
public, not Coke executives, should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to
park policy,” said Florine, who holds the world record for speed climbing El
Capitan in Yosemite along with Alex Honnold.
“We know park employees across the country are eager to do the right thing
here. Today, we’re giving them the support they need to act in the public’s
interest.”

Says
Honnold, “Bottling and transporting water is a colossal waste of resources that
the parks should in no way help promote. If anything, the sales of bottled
water fosters a kind of disposable view of the world around us that is anathema
to the park’s mission to ‘preserve unimpaired’ our wild places.”

At
least 14 of the nation’s 398 parks have already gotten rid of water sold in
plastic bottles. Find out more about Think Outside the Bottle: “10 Reasons Why National Parks Should Buck the Bottle.”

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