The National Park Service had environmental benefit in mind in 2011, when it encouraged regional directors to ban the sale of plastic water bottles. But like many well-intentioned green federal policies, this one backfired.
Nearly 20 national parks have embraced the bottled water ban. But the measures don’t affect the sale of other beverages, including sugary sodas and juice.
Instead of using drinking fountains or bringing along reusable bottles, thirsty national park visitors are instead buying alternative drinks that are less healthy—and that likely generate more plastic waste.
In 2013, the University of Vermont also banned water bottles, and the consequences were surprising, the executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, writes in the Huffington Post:
Sugary drink sales increased by 33 percent, and the total number of plastic bottles sold increased, too.
Even more, because soda bottles typically contain twice the amount of plastic as water bottles (they have to be thick enough to withstand the high pressure of carbonation), the bottled water ban led to greater production of plastic waste.
Noting that water bottles are among the most frequently recycled products in America, Bloomberg criticized a similar policy in 2014, as San Francisco approved a similar bottled-water ban.
From a public policy standpoint,” writer Adam Minter opined, “it makes absolutely no sense to ban a packaging option that’s highly recyclable while allowing competing, often less-recyclable options to be sold in their place.”
Of course, such unintended consequences are common when the federal government tries to interfere with consumers’ choices and control their behavior. The best solution: Put a lid on this failed policy.