Why the Grand Canyon Is Being Buried in Empty Dasani Bottles

By Marion Nestle

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 theĀ 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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/why-the-grand-canyon-is-being-buried-in-empty-dasani-bottles/248271/