The Chicago Park District is taking heat from environmentalists and recycling advocates over a promotional deal with a Coca-Cola distributor that brought the city parks 5 percent of its summer sales in Chicago of the Coke’s Dasani-brand water, which comes in plastic bottles.
Under the deal that began in 2016, the park district got $35,261 last year through the “Dasani Give Back” promotion, according to Irene Tostado, a spokeswoman for the district. This year’s total for the July-through-September partnership is still being determined, Tostado said.
In August, the park district went on Facebook and Twitter to urge park-goers to buy Dasani water.
Now, it’s drawing criticism for not encouraging people to recycle the plastic bottles.
“Any more plastic in the environment that is not connected with a recycling program does more harm than good,” said Michelle Toma, president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, a volunteer group that has pushed for improved recycling programs in Chicago since the 1980s.
Kris Kaar, president of the Illinois Recycling Association, a volunteer group based in Villa Park that encourages recycling, said discarded plastic containers pose a risk to animals and the environment. “Those plastic water bottles break down into small pieces and become a contamination,” she said.
If the park district promotes bottled-water sales to raise money, Kaar said it should also encourage consumers to recycle the bottles. But she said, “We would rather see them put up water stations where people can refill a reusable plastic bottle.”
Responding to the criticism, the Chicago Park District said in a written statement that it “is a steward of the environment and takes protecting and preserving the environment very seriously” and generally is working to increase the amount of recyclable waste it collects. With recycling bins at every park, the park district said it collected 1,500 tons of recyclable waste in 2016.
According to Tostado, Dasani and other Coca-Cola products are sold by concessionaires and through vending machines at Chicago parks.
The Dasani deal was suggested by Great Lakes Coca-Cola Bottling, according to Jeff Laschen, chief executive officer of the bottler.
“The Chicago Parks District asked us how we could use our relationship to support the 500+ parks in their system, and this program grew from that,” Laschen said by email. “It’s a collaboration with our Dasani brand to continue improving the Chicago Park District since all funds from this program will be used to refurbish parks.”
Plastic bottles have been an issue elsewhere, too. In 2011, the National Parks Service announced a policy allowing individual parks to end sales and disposal of plastic water bottles on parks properties and encouraged greater use of reusable bottles. In May, the agency reported that allowing the ban had kept an estimated 1.3 million disposable plastic water bottles a year from being sold at 23 parks and saved enough energy to power as many as 37 homes for a year.
The Obama-era policy was reversed by President Donald Trump. Michael Reynolds, Trump’s national parks director, said his agency would “continue to encourage the use of free water-bottle filling stations as appropriate” but that “ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.”