By David Schwartz
PHOENIX, Arizona (Reuters) - Officials at the Grand Canyon will soon ban the sale of bottled water in response to concerns that empty plastic bottles scattered around the park were spoiling views of the natural wonder.
The National Park Service has approved a plan that will eliminate the sale of bottled water within 30 days, after nearly $290,000 was spent to install 10 water stations inside the park. Visitors can use the stations to refill their own water bottles, which they can tote in from the outside.
Park concessionaires, who can still sell other bottled beverages, chipped in with another three water stations.
"Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability," John Wessels, the park service's intermountain region director, said in a statement this week.
Wessels added he expects the new policy to have minimal impact on visitors who flock to the crimson-hued canyon in northern Arizona.
Some 4.5 million tourists visit the Grand Canyon each year, and officials worry about litter found on the rim and inner canyon spoiling the park and marring its views. They estimate the disposable bottles account for 20 percent of the park's waste and 30 percent of its recyclables.
Similar bans are in effect at Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes national parks.
The National Park Service delayed applying the ban in late 2010 after what the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility charged was pressure by Coca-Cola Co. The company and park officials have denied the claim.
Jeff Ruch, the group's executive director, said he was pleased with the decision to apply the ban, saying it "clearly shows intense public scrutiny forced this U-turn."
Susan Stribling, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said the company does not favor such bans but will continue to work to "find a solution that is in the best interest of the parks and the public."
Stribling said the company prefers solutions such as creating more recycling programs as was done at the National Mall in Washington.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Xavier Briand)