Statement Regarding H.R. 4236

February 27, 2020

Alexandria, VA –– The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and its members support recycling and waste reduction programs in national parks and in communities throughout the United States; however, we oppose efforts to ban the sale of bottled water in national parks because this legislation unreasonably targets only bottled water, the healthiest packaged beverage option, and is just one of hundreds of beverage products that are packaged in plastic containers.

IBWA thinks that it is important for people to have the ability to drink water of all types – tap, filtered, and bottled; therefore, we support efforts to have water refilling stations in national parks and to encourage park visitors to use refillable containers. However, banning the sale of bottled water will cause an increase in the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages (including soft drinks, juices, teas, and energy drinks), which are actually packaged in heavier plastic (due to manufacturing processes) and will increase the amount of plastic waste in the parks.

According to a recent Harris Poll survey conducted for IBWA, 91 percent of the respondents said that bottled water should be available wherever other drinks are sold. If bottled water is not available, 74 percent of people said they would choose another packaged drink – not water from a drinking fountain, filtered tap water, or tap water.

H.R.4236 - Reducing Waste in National Parks Act could have the unintended consequence of increasing waste by allowing the removal of the healthiest packaged beverage from national parks continue to permit less healthy sugar-sweetened beverages, which are packaged in much heavier plastic containers, to be sold. These soda and other beverage containers, which must use more plastic due to carbonation and other manufacturing processes, would increase the amount of waste in national parks.

Bottled water is a safe, healthy, and convenient product, and it has the smallest environmental footprint of any packaged beverage. Given the critical importance of proper hydration, and the increase in obesity and diabetes rates in the United States, any efforts to discourage or prevent park visitors from drinking bottled water are not in the public interest.

As with similar proposed bans and restrictions on the sale of bottled water, H.R.4236 is based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment. The proponents of anti-bottled water efforts such as this one, use emotionally charged arguments that are not based on facts or sound science.

According to figures derived from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, PET plastic bottled water containers account for less than 1/4 of 1 percent of the U.S. waste stream. Measured in tons of landfill space, PET plastic bottled water containers make up just 3.3 percent of all beverage containers that end up in landfills. Waste percentage numbers are much higher for the glass (66.7 percent), aluminum (7.9 percent), and plastic soft drink bottles (13.3 percent) that end up in landfills.

Bottled water containers are 100 percent recyclable and are the most recognized and recycled of all PET plastic containers.

The bottled water industry is continuously working to reduce its impact on the environment. The industry has a strong record of conservation and environmental stewardship, including smart management of water sources, using less plastic in packaging, encouraging recycling, and reducing water use in production.

We support NPS efforts to educate the public on the importance of recycling and to expand recycling efforts, for all packaged food and beverage products, whether purchased inside the parks or brought into the parks by visitors, so that these treasured national parks will be preserved for generations to come.

H.R.4236 seeks to codify a failed National Park Service policy that was issued in December 2011. When the policy was first announced during the previous administration, the NPS director noted that:

“Banning the sale of water bottles in national parks has great symbolism but runs counter to our healthy food initiative as it eliminates the healthiest choice for bottled drinks, leaving sugary drinks as a primary alternative. A ban could pose challenges for diabetics and others with health issues who come to a park expecting bottled water to be readily available. For parks without access to running water, filling stations for reusable bottles are impractical. A ban could affect visitor safety; proper hydration is key to planning a safe two-hour hike or a multi-day backcountry excursion. Even reasonably priced reusable water bottles may be out of reach for some visitors, especially those with large families."

Despite acknowledging these flaws, the National Park Service went forward with the bottled water sales ban policy at 23 national park units. This was done without any meaningful analysis of the various factors that were required to be considered in order to impose a ban, and without the substantive monitoring and evaluation mandated by the policy. 

Health, nutrition, and consumer groups also expressed concerns about the NPS bottled water sales ban policy.

  • The Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that "A policy that allows bottled sugar water (soda), but not healthy bottled water, to be sold at our National Parks doesn’t make sense."
  • The Public Health Advocates organization stated that “From a public health perspective, a National Park Service policy giving unhealthy sugary drinks preferred treatment over water is nothing short of ludicrous.”

In August 2017, the National Park Service wisely rescinded the bottled water sales ban policy. NPS noted that it was taking this action to “expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks. The ban removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks.” NPS also stated that while it will “continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods.” IBWA wholly agrees.

There should be widespread agreement that improving recycling and waste management efforts—for all food and beverage products, regardless of whether they are purchased inside or outside the parks—makes sense.

IBWA would welcome the opportunity to work with the sponsor of this legislation to determine the best path forward to ensure that America’s treasured national parks are preserved for generations to come.

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Please attribute the above comments to: Joe Doss, President and CEO of the International Bottled Water Association.

For further information:

Jill Culora
Vice President of Communications
International Bottled Water Association
1700 Diagonal Road  |  Alexandria, VA 22314
Office: 703.647.4609  |  Mobile: 703.683.4378  |  Fax: 703.683.4074  
[email protected]  | www.bottledwater.org

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA's membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products.

In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization.

IBWA is proud to be a partner with Keep America Beautiful and a supporter of Drink Up, an initiative of former First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which encourages Americans to drink more water more often – whether from the tap, a filter, or in a bottle. Choosing water is always the healthy choice.