Did the Park Service bow to pressure from Coca Cola on its bottle ban?

  • A rainbow stretches over the Grand Canyon's Mather Point.

    National Park Service

It was an ambitious plan: Ban the sale of individual plastic water bottles in the Grand Canyon to cut waste in the nation's second-most visited national park. But in December 2010, just two weeks before the prohibition was to take effect, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis postponed it indefinitely, citing impacts to concessionaires and public safety risks in the hot desert setting. A recent New York Times article reports that Steve Martin, the park's superintendent at the time, was upset about possible corporate influence on the decision. The Coca-Cola Company, which sells Dasani and other bottled water brands, had expressed concerns about the ban to the National Park Foundation, which handles donations to national parks. "Banning anything is never the right answer," Coke spokeswoman Susan Stribling told the Times. The Park Service met with Coke, the bottling industry and concessionaires to discuss it. In November, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the Park Service for access to records on the switch; agency officials insist there was no corporate meddling. It's unlikely a ban would have hurt Coke much, but setting a precedent for other parks could be bad for business.

309,000 Approximate number of plastic water bottles disposed of in Grand Canyon National Park in 2010

30 Estimated percent of those bottles that was recycled  

30 Estimated percent of Grand Canyon's waste stream composed of plastic water bottles

$289,000 Dollars spent by the park to install 10 water-bottle filling stations in preparation for the plastic bottle ban  

$300,000 Estimated retail value of bottled water sold in the park in a given year

$14 million Minimum amount that the Coca-Cola Company has donated to all parks over the last 40 years, including money for a recycling program on the National Mall

$22.4 million
Grand Canyon National Park's 2010 operating budget  

$35 billion Coca Cola Company's 2010 net operating revenues  

2009 Year in which Zion National Park received a National Park Service environmental achievement award for banning plastic water bottles

Minimum number of water bottles eliminated in the first year of Zion's program

SOURCES: National Park Service, The Coca-Cola Company

Charlie Hohn
Charlie Hohn
Dec 13, 2011 06:21 AM
Just another example of our country being owned by corporations.

I don't believe in bans to soda, fast food, etc, but it's perfectly reasonable to not sell pre-made litter in a national park. Coke can sell fountain drinks into biodegradable plastic cups. As for anyone claiming people will die out in the desert because they can't buy bottled water... well, the park could sell cheap reusable bottles if they are actually worried about that.
Jennifer A Johnsrud
Jennifer A Johnsrud Subscriber
Dec 15, 2011 02:11 PM
I agree with Charlie - inexpensive reusable bottles could easily replace the disposable soda bottles. And I doubt ending soda bottle sales would kill anyone who would otherwise have been careful.
Christine Sculati
Christine Sculati
Dec 16, 2011 09:52 AM
Thanks for summarizing the facts and figures. Aside from the mission misalignment concerns here, $14 million over 40 years is not substantial compared to the revenue potential of taxes on soda drinks, which could bring in billions, according to the Yale Rudd Center calculator. A tax of 1 cent per ounce on soda type beverages could generate $19,646,072,793 in one year based on current consumption.
Dec 16, 2011 11:31 AM
Other large national parks, like Grand Teton for instance, have already banned the sale of plastic water bottles. They have been replaced with the sales of cheap reusable/recyclable bottles and numerous water filling stations. The public (in this case, the people who visit the park) was generally very supportive of this measure, and the park and concessionaires are not losing out on profits. Seems like a win win to me.
Jessica Pope
Jessica Pope Subscriber
Dec 18, 2011 01:25 PM
What this article fails to mention are the number of plastic water bottles that end up as liter in the canyon, just over the edge and pretty much not retrievable. The water stations provide free water, are readily accessible and people don't throw their nalgenes or metal water bottles into the canyon.