Disposable Water Bottles in the National Parks: My Retro Canteen

There is a spirited public conversation happening regarding bottled water, and specifically bottled water in the national parks.   There have been articles with hundreds of people weighing in on whether or not we, as a concessionaire, along with the National Park Service should provide bottled water to our guests. Should we ban it? Does the elimination of bottled water drive people to drink less healthy alternatives? What do people do when they get thirsty? When did bottled water become iconic in National Parks anyway?

In 2016, the national parks will celebrate their centennial. Yes, 100 years of stewardship of the beautiful places on earth that we call our national treasures. In doing some research, I learned that people have been bottling water long before our national parks were established. In fact, water has been stored in glass bottles since the 1600s.

In the early 1970s, a plastic called Polyethylene terephthalate was invented—more commonly known as PET or that #1 plastic that can be recycled. This new materials was lightweight and could withstand temperatures and pressures required for the bottling process. Our beverages migrated from glass to plastic.

Litter Crater LakeAnd that’s where the (plastic) bottled water conversation that we are now having began.

Along with the National Park Service, Xanterra Travel Collection was the first concessionaire to remove bottled water from a national park, Zion National Park. In fact, the water at Zion is absolutely delicious and we want our guests to enjoy it, which is why we, alongside the NPS, installed refillable water stations throughout the lodge/park.  We have now installed filling stations throughout many of Xanterra’s properties.  Guests can easily taste some of the freshest spring water on earth straight from the source, free of charge.

There is a time and a place for bottled water. We often sell it in places that have extreme conditions and where potable water is unavailable to our guests. It is not and never will be Xanterra’s intention to have guests choose less healthy options.

It’s really not about the water; it’s about the trash. Every day, according to the Container Recycling Institute, 60 million water bottles are thrown away.  By eliminating the disposables, we are trying to prevent plastic from ending up on the trails, in the rivers and in the oceans.

How can we provide the most sustainable hydration option to our guest is the question that I keep going back to?

For 100s of years travelers and outdoorsmen carried around reusable receptacles for water. When I was a Girl Scout, I drank from a canteen —a simple refillable stainless steel container that had a canvas cover and a strap that went around my neck for hiking. Remember those? Today, you can readily pick up an endlessly refillable glass, metal or plastic water bottle, in a seemingly endless variety of colors, sizes and features at nearly any retail store.

My Retro Canteen

For 100s of years travelers and outdoorsmen carried around reusable receptacles for water.

At Xanterra, we hope to provide the best options—best for our guests, best for the parks and best for the future of our planet. We also want to keep these beautiful places clean and free from excess litter.

I hear that retro is in.

Refill, and enjoy the fresh water in our parks.

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