Across the United States’ 423 national parks, millions of tiny particles of plastic fall from the sky each year.
Plastic rain has become such a pervasive problem that the equivalent of 300 million bottles are deposited on the mountains, streams and open plains of western National Parks annually, a 2020 study found.
Now, more than 300 nonprofits, environmental agencies and businesses have written to US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to demand that single-use plastic bags are banned by the National Park Service.
The group is calling for a halt to the sale and distribution of polystyrene-foam products and single-use plastic bottles and bags, as well as cups, plates, bowls, and utensils.
Among the signatories to the letter are the musician Jack Johnson, Greenpeace USA, more than a dozen state environmental agencies and several indigenous groups.
“Plastic trash is often visible in parks, impairing visitors’ experiences of these treasured natural and historical sites,” the letter reads.
More than 300 million people visit national parks in the US each year, bringing with them millions of tonnes of trash in the form of disposable knives and forks, food trays and plastic water bottles.
Unlike with the unsightly litter that can often be seen casually tossed away beside rivers and lakes, microplastics are not visible to the human eye.
But they do find its way into the food chain, and eventually onto our plates.
The letter states that every person on earth consumes a credit card’s worth of microplastic every week, “with unforeseeable consequences to development, disease, fertility and beyond”.
It calls on Secretary Haaland, the first Native woman to hold a Cabinet position, to continue to show her strong record on environmental leadership.
Plastics are threatening the health of the US’ great outdoors “from Biscayne National Park in Florida to Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska”, Sarah Barmeyer, senior managing director for conservation programs at the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.
Julia Cohen, managing director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, said in a statement 99 per cent of plastics were made from fossil fuels, and plastic pollutes at every stage of its existence.
“We urge Secretary Haaland to eliminate the sale and use of single-use plastics in US national parks. Let’s stop trashing our treasures – our national parks.”
Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, said the National Park Service had a golden opportunity to show its commitment to environmental protection.
"Plastic production poisons communities where it is manufactured and is responsible for major greenhouse gas emissions. This is an environmental justice issue where we need President Biden to lead.”
Attempts to reduce waste in National Parks have been stymied by federal policy flip-flops under recent administrations.
In 2011, President Obama encouraged national parks to ban the sale of plastic water bottles, and 23 parks, including the Grand Canyon and Zion, went bottle-free.
However, the Trump administration scrapped the policy in 2017.
In December, environmental groups presented the Biden transition team with a presidential plastics action plan containing eight policy suggestions the new administration could take up.
These included directing the federal government to stop purchasing single-use plastics, ceasing subsidies to plastic producers and stricter enforcement on corporate polluters.
The letter, which coincides with plastic-free July, was supported by the conservation group Oceana.
“Plastic pollution has been creeping into these special places at alarming rates,” says Christy Leavitt, the plastics campaign director for Oceana.
An Oceana spokesman said they had received an acknowledgement from the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service.
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