- The rapid accumulation of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste caused by disposable plastic water bottle use is a worldwide problem that will continue to affect our environment, economy and society unless new methods of reduction and degradation are explored. The large amounts of energy and resources that are required during the lifecycle of PET are also worthwhile of concern. In the following, a review of current plastic waste management within heavily used national parks in the United States unveils that landfilling is more prevalent than recycling. Moreover, it is found that park managers are not always aware of the standard waste management processes carried out by their contracted waste management companies.
Historically, most PET plastic waste from national parks has been sent to these companies to be processed internally or exported to China. However, a recent ban on exporting PET plastics to China will impact the way the United States manages its plastics, and national park managers will need to adapt to these changes. The NPS’ mission aims to protect resources while providing recreation opportunities as well as educating future generations on outdoor recreation and sustainable stewardship. The implementation of sustainable waste management within national parks will not only help park managers adhere to this mission, but may also set an example for waste management throughout the rest of the country and beyond.
Therefore, it is recommended that the NPS re-establish a disposable plastic water bottle ban, construct and maintain more water refill stations, enhance both indirect and direct visitor communication efforts, and consider using the plastic eating microbe Ideonalla sakaiensis or other alternative methods to biodegrade PET plastic waste within national parks. These recommendations would reduce the amount of plastic waste being landfilled in the United States while helping park managers promote environmental stewardship. It is also expected that these recommendations will lead to more sustainable environmental, economic, and social conditions within national parks.