Why the Grand Canyon Is Being Buried in Empty Dasani Bottles

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About 30 percent of the park's waste is made up of empty soda bottles, but talk of a ban ceased after Coca-Cola expressed its displeasure

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I'm always saying that food company donations and partnerships to health and environmental good causes end up doing more for the companies than the recipients. Money always talks. Accepting corporate donations comes with strings that create conflicts of interest.

The latest evidence for these assertions comes from the Grand Canyon's efforts to get plastic water and soda bottles out of the park. These account for a whopping 30 percent of its waste.

According to the account in a recent edition of the New York Times, Coca-Cola, one of the park's big donors, convinced the National Park Service to block the bottle ban.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled.

The Times quotes Mr. Martin:

That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being influenced unduly by business.... It was even more of a concern because we had worked with all the people who would be truly affected in their sales and bottom line, and they accepted it.

It also quotes a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, Susan Stribling:

The company would rather help address the plastic litter problem by increasing the availability of recycling programs. "Banning anything is never the right answer.... If you do that, you don't necessarily address the problem.... You're not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume."

And throw plastic bottles into the park, I guess.

This sordid episode explains why Coke gives millions to the Grand Canyon. In a word, green-washing.

Coke needs to change its position on this one. And so does the Park Service.

Image: holi/Shutterstock.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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