Is it Coca-Cola's Grand Canyon or Ours? The Fight Over Bottled Water Hits National Parks

Grand Canyon National Park officials wanted to ban the sale of bottled water, but Coke had other ideas.

Anyone lucky enough to see the Grand Canyon should understand why Grand Canyon National Park officials wanted to institute a ban on the sale of bottled water in the park. Visitors to the park should be able to see the Canyon in its pristine condition, not littered with plastic bottles. But National Parks Service Director Jon Jarvis blocked the ban right before it took effect, and shortly after Coca-Cola made inquires about the ban. Since Coca-Cola is a major donor to the National Parks Foundation, contributing about $13 million in total to the Foundation and the Parks, we have to ask: how much influence should a corporate donor have on the operations decisions of an entity like National Parks Service?

Stephen P. Martin, a Grand Canyon park official, developed the ban because 30 percent of park waste is from plastic bottles. In a place like a national park, a preserved location, protected from the usual scars (like garbage) left by human beings, this seems like a reasonable course of action to take. There's really no reason to object to any attempt to keep a national park free from excess waste.

But, Coca-Cola sells its Dasani brand of bottled water to park visitors. The park's ban would include providing water stations for reusable bottles, but Coke would, of course, prefer people buy their product.

When asked about the ban, Susan Stribling, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, exposed a serious lack of understanding when it comes to waste and recycling. According to Stribling, Coca-Cola's strategy isn't to try to eliminate waste before it's created, but to provide recycling bins instead. She offered this ridiculous and preposterous response:

"Banning anything is never the right answer. If you do that, you don't necessarily address the problem. You're not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume."

Whenever the bottled water industry is confronted with a proposed ban on it's products, it falls back to making a defense of personal choice and freedom. But visitors to the Grand Canyon would still have the choice of drinking water; they could bring a reusable bottle with them and fill it at filling stations, making sure to stay hydrated on their visit. What they wouldn't be able to do is buy a bottle of water at the Park and leave it lying along a trail or drop it in the Colorado River.

Of course, the decision to ban bottled water in the Grand Canyon isn't about the freedom to choose to consume what you want, it's about protecting one of the natural wonders of the world. But Coca-Cola would rather we not discuss the issue in that context. They'd rather distract us with nonsense responses to serious concerns about the single largest source of waste in the Grand Canyon.

Tough it out: pack a reusable container and fill it up at a water station.

Everyone should be lucky enough to see the Grand Canyon. And it's ours, not Coke's. 

Rich Bindell is a senior writer and outreach specialist at Food & Water Watch.
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