New water bottle stations in Grand Canyon make park safer, more “green”

New water bottle stations in the Grand Canyon will help the park go Stretching for 277 miles through the Arizona desert, the Grand Canyon is amongst the more impressive natural wonders you’ll ever see. It is over 6000 feet in depth and at its widest point, it is 18 miles across. Everything about the place is truly epic in scale, and that is why the park receives nearly 4.5 million visitors a year. But all those visitors can have an impact on the environment there, which is why the National Park Service recently took steps to protect the Canyon, while serving its visitors better at the same time.

A few weeks back the NPS completed the installation of nine water bottle stations in the park. Those stations, located in the highest traffic areas, will provide visitors with plenty of water while hiking in the canyon, which can be quite warm in many months of the year. Visitors are now encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles or hydration packs, and refill often while on the trail.

Keeping visitors hydrated during hot days in the park was only one of the reasons these stations were installed however. The Park Service estimates that about 30% of all the waste removed from the park comes from plastic water bottles, and they are hoping that these filling stations will become a more viable option for hikers, while cutting down on litter and the use of plastics in general. The Park’s leadership has made a commitment to being more environmentally friendly, and they’re encouraging visitors to do the same.

Six of the water stations have been installed along the South Rim at Hermits Rest; the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trailheads; the Canyon Village and Desert View Marketplaces; and
Grand Canyon, Verkamp’s and Desert View Visitor Centers. An additional three refilling stations have been installed along the North Rim at North Kaibab Trailhead, North Rim Visitor Center, and at the North Rim Backcountry Office. Two of those, the North Kaibab Trailhead and the North Rim Visitor Center are for seasonal use only, while all others provide access year round.

Considering how environmentally unfriendly plastic water bottles are, this is a great move for the Park Service. It is also a fantastic resource for travelers in the Grand Canyon as well. The hot, dry weather often surprises visitors to that park, and there are a high number of evacuations there each year for heat and dehydration related issues. Hopefully a readily available supply of water will help address that issue as well.

Top ten simple ways to lower your travel carbon footprint in 2011

carbon footprintIt’s almost a new decade, and the earth ain’t getting any younger, cooler, or less crowded. As travel enthusiasts (even if it’s via an armchair), there are plenty of small changes we can make that cumulatively have a significant positive impact upon the planet. When you consider the amount of fossil fuels required to fly or even take a weekend roadtrip, it makes even more sense to try and offset that footprint by traveling (and living) mindfully. Notice I don’t suggest actually giving up travel: I’m eco-conscious, not delusional.

Fortunately, the eco-travel industry is exploding (be sure to do your research, to make sure companies aren’t just using the term as a buzzword). If you’re a business traveler who doesn’t have a choice on where you go or stay, there are still a number of things you can do to minimize your footprint. And FYI, there’s a growing choice of eco-gear and luggage available for all types of travelers these days.

While it’s simply not realistic to devote every waking moment to living a greener, cleaner life (I confess I love my car, and I certainly can’t afford to buy green or organic products all of the time), doing the best you can does make a difference.

Below, my suggestions for painlessly lowering a travel carbon footprint, no treehugging required.

1. BYO water bottle
It takes over a million of barrels of oil to fulfill our lust for bottled water in the U.S. alone, and those empty bottles have to go somewhere (hint: a landfill). Buying bottled is also just a waste of money, unless there’s a legitimate reason to drink purified water. Get a BPA-free bottle, and carry it to work, on the road, and in the air. You can even go one further and bring your own filter or iodine tablets, so you don’t need to purchase water at all in areas where the supply is untreated.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Brave Heart]

carbon footprint2. Bring a reusable shopping sack/use Ziplocs
These amazingly convenient little guys convert into stuff sacks and are the size of a deck of cards. Many have clips so you can hook them on your belt loop or day pack. Try ChicoBags or Foldable Bags for fun, practical, affordable options.

Ziplocs have dozens of uses, but one of their big bonuses (especially if you buy the heavy-duty freezer ones; if you can find industrial-strength bio-bags, even better) is that you can repeatedly use them to store snacks and leftovers; just wash, turn inside out, and dry. Now you have a place to put those juicy blackberries you found while hiking, or stash that crottin from the farmers market.

3. Use refillable bottles for toiletries
Who doesn’t love saving money? Whole Foods and other stores of that ilk have bulk body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and soap (often biodegradable/paraben-free) so not only can you top off for under a dollar, but get an earth-friendly product, to boot.

4. Conserve electricity
This is as simple as turning off the light, heat, A/C, or ceiling fan when you leave (you’ll survive the slight increase or decrease in temperature upon your return, I promise). If you’re staying somewhere long-term, unplug devices or appliances when not in use, since they continue to draw energy.
carbon footprint
5. Walk, rent or borrow a bike, or take the bus
Think of it as getting some exercise so you can eat more of the local food. It’s also an eye-opening, and often enlightening experience to travel with locals, or explore a place by foot.

6. Pack collapsible flatware and utensils
I realize not everyone travels with a bowl and spoon when they’re not camping, but travel writers don’t earn the big bucks. I usually end up buying a bag of granola and picking up yogurt or individual cartons of soy milk (which don’t require refrigeration if unopened), so I can cut down on food costs when I’m traveling. I even reuse and carry compostable utensils I acquire from dining out, and stash them in my car and backpack. There are all different makes and materials for collapsible dinnerware; REI has a great selection. As long as I don’t turn into my mother and start slipping half-gnawed dinner rolls into my purse, I think my little habit is harmless.

7. Shorten your showers/turn off taps while brushing teeth and shaving
Water shortage is a life-and-death issue in much of the developing world. At home, practicing water conservation is also important, even if you don’t live in a drought-stricken region. But when you’re traveling? It’s not just courteous, but critical.

8. Pick it up!
Your trash, as well as trash you find during hikes or other outings. At the beach (or lake or river), collect discarded bottles, plastic bags, and other flotsam that can kill or injure aquatic life or pollute delicate marine ecosystems (which ultimately affects human health). I always make a point of doing a beach clean-up during my sunset stroll when I’m on a coastal trip. I keep a couple of trash bags stashed in my car and backpack. If you can afford it, get
composcarbon footprinttable bags, which can now be found at just about any decent-size grocery store, but be aware most are pretty flimsy.

This beach clean-up behavior has garnered me baffled looks and even finger-pointing and snickers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and of course these items aren’t going to get recycled. But if getting them off the ground and out of sight can temporarily tidy up and preserve the natural beauty of a place, I feel like I’ve done something positive for the planet and the local people.

9. Learn what not to purchase
Ivory, sea turtle products, rhinoceros horn, tiger penis, endangered animal pelts or pets, certain species of plants: just say no. The same goes for shady tour operators. Do a bit of research and talk to fellow travelers to get feedback on what trips or companies to avoid.

I’ve been seduced by slick promotional materials and operators in the past. This would explain how I’ve variously ended up at a squalid Burmese refugee camp (not a “Thai Hilltribe village”) full of downtrodden people who most definitely did not want a bunch of gawking backpackers in their faces; ridden some horses that were little more than walking skeletons; floated on a raft made from endangered wood; seen my tripmates buy drugs off of our guide, and literally had to make a run for it after a clueless guide had us set up camp in a flash flood zone. I realize I’m deviating a bit from the eco-theme here, but my point is, be careful.

For more information on what animal and plant products to avoid overseas, click here.

10. Give back
If I’m headed to a developing nation, especially if I’m doing a trek or other outdoor trip with guides, I pack old clothes and shoes, and donate them when it’s over. Sometimes operators will ask clients for donations if they have anything they’d like to part with. This isn’t greedy, tacky, or sketchy; when you consider what the average Quechua porter on the Inca Trail makes in a year, you can see why your gift of a pair of child’s mittens is important. Bonus: Packing light and donating articles reduces the weight of your luggage, which burns less fossil fuels on the drive or flight home.

I do still feel uncomfortable making unsolicited donations, but one of my favorite travel memories is from a culinary tour I took in Morocco a few years ago. On our final morning, a couple of us collected a bag of clothes, shoes, and toiletries to donate to the poverty-stricken community we’d passed each day on the way back to our accommodation. After seeking out an old woman who was clearly the village matriarch, we used sign language to explain our motive. With a huge, toothless grin, she began passing out items to the crowd that had suddenly gathered around her. They thanked us profusely, and we went on our way.

That afternoon, on our way to the airport, I spied an ancient, wizened Berber man scuffing down the dusty road. He was clad in skull cap and jellaba, and a pair of size 11 running shoes that had belonged to a 5’11 woman in our group. He kept pausing to hold up one foot, then the other, staring at them with wonderment. I have very mixed feelings about spreading Western culture when I travel to developing nations, but if those Air Nikes found a second life and enabled an old man to walk more comfortably, then so be it. And you know, he looked pretty damn fly.

[Photo credits: bags, Flickr user foldablebags.com; bike, Flickr user Pörrö; sign, Flickr user Beau B]

Review: WaterGeeks filtering stainless steel water bottle

The WaterGeeks filtering stainless water bottle is a water bottle with a twist – besides being a non-leaching BPA free container, the bottle features a built in water filter capable of removing water contaminants, chlorine, bad odors, lead and heavy metals.

The bottle itself comes in two sizes – 12oz or 24oz and you can chose from stainless or one of eight different colors. You can even pick from eight different cap colors, which means you’ll be able to design the bottle exactly as you want it. Depending on the quality of the water you’ll be drinking, you can chose from a basic tap water filter, or a more advanced version capable of filtering out bacteria, cysts, cryptosporidium and other nastiness.


The filter cartridge fits onto the bottle cap and is sufficient for 800 12oz servings. Replacement filters cost $10.99 and come with a new cap, ensuring you always get the best possible quality water.

If you really want to get safe drinkable water from questionable sources, you can of course combine the filtration power of the WaterGeeks bottle, with the disinfecting power of a SteriPEN water purifier.

The WaterGeeks bottle weighs just 6.9 ounces (195 grams), making it ideal of packing and carrying on a trip. The cap cover is attached to the neck of the bottle and features a pop-up valve and air valve to reduce vacuum inside the bottle.

Without access to a water lab, it is hard to tell whether the filter actually works – but there is no denying that active charcoal as used in the tap filter is a proven technology – and water filtered through the bottle really does taste better.

One added bonus of the WaterGeeks filter technology is that their cap and filter will fit any bottle with a 1.75″ thread design – including those from competitors.

You’ll find the entire lineup of WaterGeeks bottles at TheWaterGeeks.com, along with their many other produces. Their bottles are also on sale through several other online retailers.


Gear review: Hydros water bottle

A Gadling reader responded to my earlier 3 Innovative Reusable Water Bottles round-up by suggesting that I check out the Hydros water bottle. Here’s how this reusable bottle measures up.

Hydros
This hefty water bottle is no lightweight. When comparing empty containers, the Hydros easily feels twice as heavy as the Bobble that I tested. That said, this BPA-free bottle is something that I could see keeping around much longer because it feels more like a mini Brita than a typical water bottle. In fact, unlike the Bobble’s built-in filter that cleans as you drink, the Hydros design resembles a Brita filter — you pour water directly through the filtering device first. To drink, the Hydros resembles a Sigg or Nalgene bottle in that you have to unscrew the lid and sip from the mouth of the bottle. When screwed tightly, flipped upside down, and shaken vigorously, not a single drop escaped.

Due to its bulkiness, however, the 24 oz. Hydros seems better suited to road trips or vacations that don’t stray from more than one location (a weeklong vacation rental could be ideal). For times when you’re on the go, there are better reusable water bottles on the market. But for trips where you can leave the water bottle in the car or in the fridge, the Hydros is worth considering.

Price: $29.99; replacement filters are $6.99 each. Add $4.99 for shipping.

Where to Buy: The Hydros, which debuted in February, is currently only available from www.hydrosbottle.com.

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3 Innovative Reusable Water Bottles

Earth Day may be next week, but being eco-conscious has become a year-round trend.

When it comes to being green, here are three water-bottle designers that are breaking the mold without breaking the bank.

Bobble
This bulbous-looking water bottle comes with a built-in filter that should be changed every few months. Made with recycled plastic, the BPA-free Bobble never spilled in my bag even after sloshing around for a week. The filter also makes filling up at the airport water fountain seem just a little less distasteful.
Price: $9.95; replacement filters cost $6.95 each.
Where to Buy: This brand-new bottle is currently shipping to major retailers (including JCPenney, Whole Foods, and Barnes & Noble) and should start appearing on store shelves in the next month or so. You can also order it now from www.waterbobble.com; add from $3.95 for shipping and handling.

Vapur
This BPA-free Vapur resembles a Capri Sun drink pouch more than a water bottle. The lightweight, collapsible design means you can flatten it, fold it, or roll it up when it’s empty. The so-called “anti-bottle” can also be frozen, tossed in the dishwasher, and generally squashed.
Price: $8.95
Where to Buy: www.vapur.us; add from $4.45 for shipping and handling. Flight 001 also carries the Vapur for $10, but it’s so popular that it’s often out of stock.

Hydro Flask
The Hydro Flask looks like a typical stainless steel water bottle, but the unique insulated double wall means you can pour hot or cold liquids inside. The sweat-proof design also keeps your bag from getting soaked from any condensation.
Price: From $23.99
Where to Buy: Check www.hydroflask.com for a list of stores; for online orders, add from about $9 for UPS Ground shipping.

Al Gore would be so proud.

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