Refill stations: Why the Detroit Zoo no longer sells bottled water

To eliminate litter associated with disposable plastic water bottles, Detroit Zoo has introduced water bottle refill stations.

Peter Macdiarmid/Reuters/File
Bottles of Dasani water are seen on sale at a supermarket, March 19, 2004. Detroit Zoo no longer sells bottled water

The Detroit Zoo has made a move to help fight the spread of discarded water bottles that pollute the environment – by stopped selling water sold in plastic bottles. It also installed 20 filtered water refill stations.

“Instead of 20-ounce Aquafina bottles the zoo sold for $3.99, visitors will have to bring their own containers and can fill them up at filtered water stations. Or they can buy reusable green-and-white bottles with the zoo logo at $2.59 each,” The Detroit News reports.

The zoo introduced water-filling stations although other beverages are still sold in plastic bottles from vending machines and at the zoo cafe. Patricia Janeway, director of communications for the Detroit Zoological Society, told the Detroit News that this is, “because bottled water was the most-purchased product at the Detroit Zoo, we felt that removing it from our shelves would have the greatest impact from an environmental perspective,” she said. “We can offer our guests abundant access to free filtered water through our 20 refill stations and concessions, so bottled water was the most practical item to focus on in order to create awareness and change.

“What separates bottled water from other bottled beverages is that water is easily accessible, and the environmental impact of this single-use plastic item is incredibly devastating to our land, lakes, and rivers throughout its entire life cycle.”

Detroit isn’t the first to make the switch. 

In 2011, The National Park Service, introduced a strategy which the New York Times editorial boards calls cautious, sensible policy that allows parks to ban the sale of plastic water bottles.

About 20 national parks have sworn off water sales, including Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, and Bryce Canyon, and Mount Rushmore. According to the Washington Post, “the number could be higher, because parks are not required to notify headquarters when they change their policies on concessions.”

Zion National Park in Utah, calls its water-filling stations a “sustainability success story.”  The park estimates that it has stopped selling 60,000 bottles of water per year, “the equivalent of 5,000 pounds of plastic not entering the waste stream,” according to it’s website.

But the bottled water industry pushed back this summer, and lobbied Congress until the House of Representatives threatened “to cut off the federal money the Park Service is using to replace the disposable plastic water bottles with refilling stations,” The Washington Post reports.

“The bottled water industry and its allies in Congress say the bans may be having adverse effects on public health and safety — by leaving some visitors dehydrated if they can’t find water and by pushing others to drink less healthy beverages, like sugary sodas,” the Times reports.

The sale of bottled water at Detroit zoo brought in about $250,000 a year, now they no longer make that kind of money. Janeway says, the ban of single-use water bottles wasn’t about finances.

“It was about the environment. Taking 60,000-plus water bottles - many that would be thrown away, rather than recycled, and some that would end up as litter - out of circulation each year is a matter of the zoo being a good citizen.”

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