New federal legislation proposed to tackle plastic pollution in national parks

A new federal bill proposed last week by U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), the Reducing Waste in National Parks Act, aims to reduce plastic waste and pollution in the U.S. national park system.


If passed, the legislation would reduce the use of disposable plastic products, including single-use drink bottles, plastic bags and plastic utensils, in many national park facilities across the country. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a complementary bill in the Senate.

“No one wants to see single-use plastic pollution in our national parks, and there’s no reason we should when sustainable alternatives exist. Single-use plastic products only damage these special places, and their damage can last for centuries even though they are only used for a moment, “Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign manager at international ocean advocacy group Oceana, said in a statement.

The United States is one of the largest producers of plastic waste in the world. In 2018 alone, the country generated more than 35 million tonnes of plastic. While most of the plastic has gone to landfills, a significant amount ends up polluting our water and lands, including our national parks.

“National parks are bipartisan – everyone loves national parks,” Quigley told EHN. As people continue to appreciate the beauty of national parks, he said, he hopes the bill educates and encourages them to reduce their plastic waste and protect the environment.

Merkley told EHN: “Plastic pollution threatens our ability to live in healthy communities and enjoy the beauty and majesty of our national parks, now and in the future.”

Quigley said he hopes his bill passes the House this fall and goes through the Senate, adding: “We’re going to be very creative on how we’re going to get this thing done.”

Reduce sales and use of plastic

Representative Mike Quigley

The bill is not an outright ban on single-use plastic products. Instead, he orders the National Park Service to develop plans to reduce the sale and use of plastic products in parks. To that end, the bill “is not unique,” Quigley said, as each regional park manager could tailor the waste reduction effort to their region.

Reducing plastic consumption and waste is not a new initiative for the National Park Service. In 2011, the Obama administration issued guidelines encouraging national parks across the country to stop selling plastic water bottles. Under the voluntary plastic ban, 23 of 417 national parks, including Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park, have restricted the sale of bottled water. As a result, Zion National Park in Utah saved 60,000 water bottles, or 5,000 pounds of plastic waste, by installing water stations and selling reusable water bottles, according to a statement from the. Quigley’s office after the announcement of the new bill.

The Trump administration reversed Obama-era policies in 2017. The reversal came just weeks after Senate confirmation of David Bernhardt, who was appointed deputy secretary of the Home Office, the government agency. national parks. A former lobbyist, Bernhardt had worked with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the law firm that represented Deer Park distributor Nestlé Waters.

Months before the policy was canceled, the National Park Service released a report indicating that the Obama administration’s advice in participating national parks saved 1.3 to 2.01 million bottles of water. disposable each year, reducing 73,000 to 111,000 pounds of plastic waste per year.

Plastic policy

Quigley hopes that by consolidating the plastic reduction rules into law, the National Parks Waste Reduction Act will have a better chance of survival, regardless of which party holds the White House.

“Rather than relying on the whims of the incumbent President,” Quigley said, “[the bill] codify these guidelines and ensure that future administrations cannot reverse them. Prior to this bill, Quigley attempted to introduce similar versions of the law in 2017 and 2019, but both died in Congress.

The National Park Service declined to comment. “The NPS does not comment on proposed legislation until we have testified about the legislation (if asked),” the agency spokesperson told EHN.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have so far applauded this bill.

“On average, the parks service manages nearly 70 million pounds of trash a year, including plastics that pollute land and waterways and harm our fragile ocean ecosystems,” said John Garder of the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental group for national parks across the country. told EHN. “The National Park Service and all of us must continue to look at ways to reduce waste, and we applaud the efforts of Senator Merkley and Representative Quigley to address this important issue.”

Banner photo: Visitors to Yellowstone National Park await Old Faithful. (Credit: Nick Amoscato / flickr)

Bryce K. Locke