Grand Canyon visitors dump 220,000 cubic yards of garbage a year - which could cover a football field to the height of a 13-story building. It is currently being buried in an almost-full landfill.
But a new program sponsored in part by the Utah-based Huntsman Chemical Corp. will begin recycling much of the rubbish instead - returning some of the plastic dumped there to the park as useful picnic tables, benches and guard rails.The new "Partnership for the Parks" recycling program was announced amid Earth Week fanfare Thursday in front of the Lincoln Memorial by Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, Huntsman Chairman Jon M. Huntsman, Dow Chemical Chief Executive Officer Frank Popoff and numerous other parks officials and politicians.
Dow and Huntsman will provide bins initially in three national parks - Grand Canyon, Acadia (in Maine) and Great Smoky Mountains (in Tennessee and North Carolina) - for visitors to separate out recyclable plastic, glass and aluminum for collection.
More parks may be added later - with California's Yosemite National Park expected to join the program in the fall.
The companies are also designing exhibits, publications and campfire programs to inform park visitors about the program and encourage them to recycle more at home.
"It has long been my belief that the preservation of the environment is the single most important issue facing the world and that recycling is one very positive way to accomplish it," Huntsman said at the announcement.
He added that as a Utahn, he also looks forward "to the time that we extend this recycling partnership to include the national parks within Utah." The program seeks to encourage formation of recycling companies near national parks to help handle the waste.
Popoff said that when possible, the program "will arrange to have the recycled plastics converted and returned to the parks in the form of products like picnic tables, park benches, sign posts, guard rails, car stops and other products.
"It's time to recognize these materials not as waste but as renewable resources," he said. "It just doesn't make sense to throw away a resource that can be used again. It's like throwing away money."
Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent John Reed said, "If the visitors to Grand Canyon see us setting that example and recognize the importance of doing it wherever they live . . . they might make a commitment to their own community and do the same."
While the chemical industry has historically been attacked by environmentalists as among the worst polluters globally, Huntsman Chemical has become involved in numerous environmental and recycling programs during the past year.
Huntsman Chemical was a founding partner, as was Dow, of the National Polystyrene Recycling Co., organized last June with hopes of recycling 25 percent of used polystyrene packaging by 1995. Huntsman is North America's largest producer of polystyrene.
Huntsman also created and funded the Huntsman Environmental Research Center at Utah State University last May, has donated huge recycling bins around Salt Lake City and helped three fifth-graders in St. Louis in a drive to recycle polystyrene food service items used by their school district.
Huntsman Chemical also has a company Conserving Resources program, known as CORE.
"Our CORE program encompasses all our efforts, down to providing bins for our employees to bring their used motor oil from home for recycling. Over the years, our waste minimization efforts have saved the company millions of dollars. But more importantly, they have kept thousands of tons of material from the air, the water and from landfills," Huntsman said.