Washington water bottle a hit in Yellowstone | Don Brunell

Later this month, most facilities in Yellowstone National Park will close for the winter. The year’s visitor total is likely to top last year’s 3.5 million people. It may even beat the all-time total of 3.64 million set in 2010.

The good news is more people are experiencing the wonders of the nation’s oldest national park established in 1872. The bad news is there is more traffic congestion and trash.

To accommodate the crowds, Yellowstone has made a concerted effort to rebuild its roads and construct new facilities. That’s no easy task. The hard winters shorten the construction season and, as with all federal facilities, budgets are tight.

In Yellowstone, the 35,000 members of the Yellowstone Association teamed with the National Park Service and constructed state-of-the-art visitor education centers at Old Faithful, Canyon and Mammoth.

One of the products featured in those visitor centers are unique designer water bottles manufactured by Liberty BottleWorks in Union Gap, Washington. A portion of Liberty’s sales goes to the Association for reinvestment in Yellowstone.

Liberty’s reusable bottles are made from recycled aluminum and lined with a BPA-free material that doesn’t crack or break off. They are “Made in America”—more specifically, “Made in Washington”—while most its competitors manufacture in China or Europe.

Co-founders Tim Andis and Ryan Clark built their business as a zero emission, zero waste manufacturer. Uniquely, its containers can be used for other beverages. They are easy to wash out and the lining does not react with acidic liquids such as fruit juices and dishwashing detergents. They are ideal for our national parks.

The National Park Service has attempted to ban the sale of bottled water inside parks in an effort to reduce litter even though the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) estimates that nearly 40 percent of single-serve plastic bottled water containers are recycled—a rate which has more than doubled in the last eight years.

When Zion National Park in Utah banned the sale of plastic water bottles, sales of reusable bottles jumped 78 percent and NPS claims it kept 60,000 disposable water bottles out of the garbage.

The Park Service claims that, in contrast, the trash containers in Grand Canyon National Park are overflowing with disposable water bottles, accounting for nearly a third of the waste stream.

The International Bottled Water Association (IWBA) opposes a ban on disposable plastic water bottles, saying it would only encourage people to switch to soda, juices and energy drinks in disposable bottles.

The Park Service continues to lock horns with the $13 billion bottled water industry over efforts to remove disposable bottled water from store shelves inside national parks.

In 2011, the Park Service put the water bottle ban on hold, but it is still seeking a solution to the litter problem.

One solution is building water refilling stations as a way to encourage people to bring reusable water bottles. That is happening in Grand Canyon National Park where there are now water stations along the north and south rims.

Refilling stations, which work for Liberty BottleWorks, cost anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 each to build and funding construction and maintenance is not likely to come from Congress. It will have to come from user fees, private foundations and concessionaires.

The fight over disposable versus reusable water bottles is not likely to subside because, on average, every American throws away 252 plastic water bottles a year, according to the National Beverage Coalition. Multiply that number by more than 320 million Americans and it means more than 80 billion plastic bottles end up in recycling or garbage each year.