By op­pos­ing changes at parks, the bot­tled wa­ter in­dus­try en­ables lit­ter­ers’ de­struc­tive be­hav­ior.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BETSY MARTIN ALEXANDRIA The writer is pres­i­dent of Friends of Lit­tle Hunt­ing Creek.

Out­ra­geously, the bot­tled wa­ter in­dus­try has suc­cess­fully lob­bied Congress and, through a bud­get amend­ment, is forc­ing the Na­tional Park Ser­vice to sell wa­ter in dis­pos­able bot­tles. There are many ben­e­fits of not selling wa­ter in dis­pos­able bot­tles in na­tional parks, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing trash at parks, car­bon emis­sions and the lit­ter that de­spoils our parks, land­scape and wa­ter­ways.

Ev­ery year since 2002, the Friends of Lit­tle Hunt­ing Creek have cleaned lit­ter in Fair­fax County as part of the an­nual Po­tomac River Wa­ter­shed Cleanup. Re­cy­clable bev­er­age con­tain­ers con­sti­tute the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of trash. In 2011, near where fallen trees on Lit­tle Hunt­ing Creek cre­ated a trash dam, Fair­fax County em­ploy­ees and I sur­veyed 100 feet of nearby shore­line and found 3,955 items of trash, fill­ing 40 large bags, and bulky items such as tires and gro­cery carts. In­cluded were 1,971 plas­tic bot­tles, half of them wa­ter bot­tles. Just five months later, vol­un­teers picked up 75 bags of trash, then another 51 bags five months af­ter that. It’s the same story year af­ter year af­ter year.

In Fair­fax County, lit­ter­ers must be caught red-handed by po­lice to be cited. Lit­ter­ers know the chances of be­ing caught are neg­li­gi­ble. There is no in­cen­tive to stop lit­ter­ing, so the lit­ter keeps on com­ing.

The In­ter­na­tional Bot­tled Wa­ter As­so­ci­a­tion ac­tively lob­bies against laws that might re­duce lit­ter in the first place, such as de­posits on bev­er­age con­tain­ers or ban­ning sales of dis­pos­able wa­ter bot­tles in na­tional parks. But the in­dus­try doesn’t bear the costs its prod­ucts cre­ate, and it has no in­cen­tive to pre­vent its prod­ucts from be­com­ing lit­ter.

In­stead, the bur­den falls on lo­cal gov­ern­ments, taxpayers and vol­un­teers. Lit­ter low­ers prop­erty val­ues, harms wildlife, hurts tourism and is a dis­in­cen­tive for busi­nesses to lo­cate in a com­mu­nity. It spoils the nat­u­ral beauty of our land­scape, is an af­front to our neigh­bor­hoods and un­der­mines our sense of com­mu­nity.

The bot­tled wa­ter as­so­ci­a­tion can­not be blamed di­rectly for lit­ter­ers’ de­struc­tive be­hav­ior. But by op­pos­ing changes, the bot­tled wa­ter in­dus­try en­ables such be­hav­ior.

Mem­bers of the as­so­ci­a­tion should re­flect on the words of Pope Fran­cis in

Laudato Si, “The Earth, our home, is be­gin­ning to look more and more like an im­mense pile of filth,” and con­tem­plate the in­dus­try’s con­tri­bu­tion to the filth.

I in­vite all of its em­ploy­ees to par­tic­i­pate in our next Lit­tle Hunt­ing Creek cleanup. We work 10 sites, just eight miles from the as­so­ci­a­tion’s Alexandria head­quar­ters. Or they might vol­un­teer at the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Pre­serve or the Ge­orge Washington Me­mo­rial Park­way, two of the 800 cleanup sites in the Po­tomac River wa­ter­shed, where this year 24,000 vol­un­teers picked up 1.2 mil­lion pounds of trash, in­clud­ing more than 250,000 bev­er­age con­tain­ers.

By par­tic­i­pat­ing in a cleanup, the em­ploy­ees of the In­ter­na­tional Bot­tled Wa­ter As­so­ci­a­tion might learn that Pope Fran­cis’s words are not ab­stract.

If Na­tional Park Ser­vice Di­rec­tor John Jarvis pre­vails in his at­tempt to limit sales of dis­pos­able wa­ter bot­tles, peo­ple who can’t buy a half-liter of wa­ter in a dis­pos­able bot­tle for $1 in a na­tional park can buy a re­us­able wa­ter bot­tle for $2 or $2.50, fill it at the wa­ter foun­tain — mak­ing up the cost dif­fer­ence in two fill­ings — and show con­cern for our home.

BETSY MARTIN

Bot­tles pile up near Lit­tleHunt­ing Creek.

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