WIN: White House Announces Phase Out of Single-Use Plastics in U.S. National Parks

The White House announced today that the Department of the Interior will reduce and eventually phase out the sale of single-use plastic products in U.S. national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands. The news comes after more than 300 organizations and nearly 70,000 individuals called on the Department of the Interior to take action.

To mark World Oceans Day 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued Secretary’s Order 3407, which initiates a plan “to reduce the procurement, sale, and distribution of single-use products and packaging.” The order is also designed to phase out all single-use plastic products across Department-managed lands by the year 2032.

The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate. 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. Today’s Order will ensure that the Department’s sustainability plans include bold action on phasing out single-use plastic products as we seek to protect our natural environment and the communities around them.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a press release

This Department-wide approach to reducing plastic pollution was initiated by implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order 14057, which requires federal agencies to eliminate waste, prevent pollution, support recycling markets, and promote the transition to a circular economy by diverting waste from landfills, among other measures. The Department of the Interior Order spans its 11 bureaus. The plan to eliminate single-use plastics will be rolled out over the next ten years.

NGOs Applaud the Move, Push for More Urgency

The announcement comes after months of campaigning by NGOs, including Plastic Pollution Coalition. Many of the NGOs involved had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to today’s news, however, they reiterate the urgency of the situation and encourage the Department to move as quickly as possible.

Today we celebrate this win and we applaud Secretary Haaland, Director Sams, and the Department of the Interior for their commitment to protecting our U.S. National Parks from plastic pollution. We will continue working with our coalition members and partners to push for these changes to happen even more quickly, because plastic pollutes at every stage of its existence. In addition to trashing beautiful landscapes, the production, transport, and disposal of plastic disproportionately impact BIPOC, low-income, and rural communities. Plastic and its toxic chemicals have no place in a more just, equitable future.

Julia Cohen, MPH, Managing Director, Plastic Pollution Coalition

A recent poll by Oceana found that 82% of American voters would support a decision by the National Park Service to stop selling and distributing single-use plastic at national parks. Eighty-three percent agreed that it is important that national parks remain free of plastic trash, and 76% agreed that single-use plastic items have no place in national parks.

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. The Department of the Interior’s single-use plastic ban 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. We applaud President Biden and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for recognizing the devastating impact single-use plastic is having on our planet and taking meaningful action to keep this persistent pollutant out of our oceans and communities. We urge the secretary and Interior Department to move swiftly to carry out these changes to protect our parks from single-use plastic.

Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director, Oceana

The Action Follows Months of Campaigning by Diverse Coalition Partners

The campaign that led to this moment has been ongoing since last summer. In July 2021, a diverse group of more than 300 nonprofits, organizations, and businesses sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging her to direct the National Park Service to eliminate the sale and distribution of polystyrene-foam products and single-use plastic bottles, bags, and foodware (including cups, plates, bowls, and utensils) in national parks.

Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted a webinar in August 2021 about the National Parks campaign, featuring Lara Levison, Senior Director of Federal Policy at Oceana and Sarah Barmeyer, Senior Managing Director of Conservation Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. The discussion was moderated by Heather White, Founder & CEO, OneGreenThing and Executive Advisory Board Member, Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Several NGOs also collaborated on a recent action allowing people to send letters to U.S. Representatives and Senators asking them to sponsor the Reducing Waste in National Parks Act (S.2960/H.R.5533). More than 8,000 letters were sent. There was also an ask to members of Congress during National Parks Week (April 16–24) 2022 to make our national parks plastic-free spaces.

Single-Use Plastics Have No Place in National Parks 

The National Park Service reports managing nearly 70 million pounds of waste per year, much of it plastic. Presently, about 400 million metric tons of plastic are produced globally each year, and only a small fraction is recycled—just five to six percent in the United States. The majority of plastic that is produced ultimately ends up in landfills and the natural environment—including in the oceans. In nature, plastics rapidly break up into tiny pieces known as microplastics, which are toxic and easily ingested, inhaled, and absorbed into the bodies of people and other animals. Microplastics are widespread and harmful, polluting Earth’s air, soils, waters, oceans, and many plants.

National Parks cover more than 85 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands and attract nearly 300 million visitors per year. We must recognize these lands were once home to Indigenous peoples, who were their original stewards and who were removed—often forcibly—from them. Better caring for National Parks cannot reverse this abhorrent history, but the U.S. government can and should take action to honor Indigenous peoples and their legacy of stewardship.

By eliminating plastics from National Parks, the U.S. government is improving its stewardship of culturally and environmentally important lands. Such protection will better sustain future generations of people and the important ecosystems we rely upon to live.

August 25, 2021 , 5:00 pm 6:00 pm Washington, DC

How can we stop plastic from polluting our most beautiful natural places? From trails to beaches, parks to playgrounds, and even protected areas—plastic is impacting the world’s most revered landscapes.

Join the conversation to hear about efforts to truly honor nature by keeping plastic pollution out of it, including the campaign to urge U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Haaland to eliminate the sale and use of single-use plastics in U.S. national parks.

DATE: Wed., August 25
TIME: 2-3 pm PT | 5-6 pm ET
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August 25, 2021
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm PDTw
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Plastic Pollution Coalition
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The Independent
July 22, 2021

By Rich Razgaitis, CEO and Co-Founder of FloWater

The Trump Administration announced a repeal of the bottled water ban throughout our National Park system last week. 

Amidst the current political turbulence among a series of hot button issues this decision might seem trivial, but it’s really not. Here’s why: 

It’s an illogical decision driven purely by the undue influence of companies who profit from it. 

This repeal represents a decision steeped in tacit approval of the lobbying power of big business with profit-at-any-cost-to-the-environment motivations. This represents a policy reversal in order to drive the profitability of companies that package and distribute single-use plastic water bottles. And let’s be clear, it’s no coincidence that this repeal comes weeks after the Senate confirmation of David Bernhardt as deputy interior secretary—whose involvement included his prior law firms’ work on behalf of one of the largest single-use plastic water bottlers in the United States.

It’s a decision that’s unduly influenced by behind-the-scenes deal making, special interests, and back-pocketing big corporations and lobbyist groups that nearly all Americans—on both the left and the right—have grown to despise. The opposition of which was one of the very building blocks that created a platform for two constituents (Sanders and Trump) ideologies that most agree represented the more extreme sides of the political spectrum. 

For those who supported Trump, this repeal of an important environmental policy – which only works to support big corporations single-use bottled water profit motives – is an explicit example of the very type of deal-making they declared, and specifically voted, that they were against. 

The basis for this decision is a significant step backwards for environmental initiatives, and an even bigger one in terms of our political leadership’s ability to separate solid policy decision making from the undue influence of powerful corporations and lobbyists that thwart forward progress of powerful policy that supports building a sustainable ecosystem. 

As an American who cares deeply about our environmental stewardship and our future ecological system that we’re responsible to pass onto our children, not only do I oppose the decision based on the environmental impact, I vehemently oppose it based on the basis of the conflict of interest represented by our new deputy interior secretary.

This represents a significant step backwards on environmental issues. 

The writer Wallace Stegner called our National Park system “The best idea we’ve ever had” and the idea of which was simple: to make sure America’s greatest National Treasures remain protected and preserved forever—and for everyone. The entire basis of our National Park System is one of conservationism. 

Yet, here are the facts about single use plastic water bottles.

  • The majority of 9 billion tons of plastic created since the 1950’s are still lingering around—though only about 20 percent of those products remain in use. 
  • Most plastic water bottles do not biodegrade; instead they photo degrade. One piece turns into two, four, eight, and so on—until the microparticulate are embedded into organic matter and poison our entire ecological and food system. 
  • American’s consume nearly 50 billion single-use plastic water bottles each year—80 percentof which end up polluting our oceans, lakes, rivers, and landfills
  • To produce these bottles it requires the use of 20 billion barrels of oil, not to mention the millions of tons of CO2 byproduct emissions via the production process itself
  • The Grand Canyon National Park alone estimates that bottled water alone represented 300 tons of garbage required for annual disposal. 
  • Nearly half of all bottled water is glorified and repurposed tap water, which comes from municipal tap water sources—at 10,000 times the cost of tap water. 
  • The plastics within bottled water can be laced with chemicals that can contain thousands of endocrine (hormone) disruptors, which can permeate into the very water you drink. Not only does each bottle pollute the environment but it also pollutes your body. 
  • A recent study of women in pregnancy showed those who drank bottled water vs. those who did not had babies that were significantly more obese at birth—this is the resultant effect of exposure to hormone-disrupting toxins that leech through plastic bottles over the short period of development in utero. 

Even though only about 30 percent of the National Parks have implemented a bottled water ban, with 300 million people visiting the National Parks each year this repeal has squandered an opportunity to educate and encourage people to do right by the environment and their own health by eliminating the use of single-use plastic water bottles. 

Plastic pollution threatens wildlife. Entanglement, ingestion, and habitat disruption all result from plastic ending up in the spaces where animals live. 

Those supporting the repeal using arguments around the allowable sale of sugary beverages within the National Parks are missing the point and use it only as a red herring. To make forward progress with ideology, one must not use remedial arguments of “well, it’s better than…” And if there were a better argument, it would be one that substantiates a narrative around creating less governmental intervention in the free market—a general premise upon which I subscribe. Yet, there are critical and important measures where the government and policy should intervene—and this is yet one example. National Parks are funded by each of the tax-paying Americans in an effort to preserve and protect the environment—using “policy” to help extend those measures to keep the environmental toxifying effects, as well direct and indirect costs, of single-use plastic water bottles out of our National Parks is a premise rooted neither in a “right” or “left” viewpoint. Instead it is a pragmatic one towards doing right for sustainability—versus the profits of a few companies at our expense.

Instead, with this repeal it’s a considerable step backwards. One that removes sound sustainable policy designed specifically to support an ecosystem whose sole intent is to preserve some of our greatest natural resources in the United States—and we’re doing this by re-entrenching consumers access to an environmental cigarette: single-use plastic water bottles. 

Rich Razgaitis is the CEO and Co-Founder of FloWater. FloWater was founded in 2013 by a passionate team dedicated to a single mission: to put an end to single-use plastic water bottles while changing the way the world views water.