Get Out There

National Parks Phasing Out Plastic

There’s good news for those who love the environment and bad news for those who tend to forget the water bottles at home. The National Parks are phasing out single-use plastic by 2032.

The U.S. Interior Department is removing all single-use plastic on its lands. That includes the national parks, and it means plastic bottles, bags, cups, straws and food containers have got to be replaced. They are looking toward paper, bioplastics, glass, reusable cloth, aluminum, steel and other options.  

The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said. “As the steward of the nation’s public lands, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, we are uniquely positioned to do better for our Earth.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley is concerned about the plastic pollution problem. He wrote a bill calling for the banning of selling single-use plastic water bottles in the parks. He said, “With everyone – from park rangers to park visitors – doing their part we can get this done before the decade has passed.”

Rep. Mike Quigley, the bill’s co-sponsor in the House, was thrilled by the Department of the Interior’s announcement. He called it “a huge step forward in the effort to protect our environment and its creatures from the damage of single-use plastics.”

Our national parks, by definition, are protected areas – ones that Americans have loved for their natural beauty and history for over a century – and yet we have failed to protect them from plastic for far too long,” said Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director for the conservation group Oceana. This move from the Interior Department “will curb millions of pounds of unnecessary disposable plastic in our national parks and other public lands, where it can end up polluting these special areas.”

Of course, we are concerned about the parks remaining enjoyable. As we have seen with the plastic straw ban, compromises are needed. The plastic straw bans have negatively impacted people with disabilities who struggle with swallowing. We worry about dehydration most of all. This won’t be a huge deal if reusable water bottles are available. There is talk of adding more water fountains and bottle-filling stations that could be a boon to people on the trails. Running out of water can be a problem, so having water more readily available would be an improvement.

There aren’t any rules yet on what can be brought into the park. If you love plastic forks and disposable bottles, there are no rules against bringing them yourself. As the parks are planning on phasing out plastic over 10 years, there may come a time when visitors aren’t allowed to carry it in. We all need to do our part to keep our parks beautiful, use the garbage cars and recycling bins on the path, carry our trash out if necessary and follow the rules. Working together, we can keep the parks beautiful and make them cleaner than they currently are.

Banner image: Erik Mclean via Unsplash

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