Several environmental and other groups are teaming up Wednesday to ask that Independence National Historical Park, along with several other iconic national parks, stop selling bottled water.
If they succeed, visitors will be left with a situation - an absurd one, critics say - where they can buy sodas, juice, and other drinks in plastic bottles. But visitors who want water will have to buy a reusable bottle and fill it at a water station with Philadelphia tap water.
The effort is being led by Corporate Accountability International, a nonprofit whose Think Outside the Bottle campaign promotes public water systems.
At People's Plaza in the park on Wednesday, organizer Caroline Wooten and others plan to deliver a 3-by-5-foot card with signatures of park-goers and others representing about 50 groups and businesses.
"It sends the wrong message about our national commitment to tap water for parks to sell and promote bottled water," said Tina Shelton, a Havertown resident with Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which supports the effort.
The groups say water is a "human right" that should not be treated like a commodity, never mind that Philadelphia meters it and charges residents, businesses - and the park - for using it.
"It really comes back to who is providing our water," Wooten said. "Is it municipal water systems . . . accountable to the public? Or is it Nestlé, Coke, and Pepsi who are accountable to their bottom line?"
Philadelphia Councilman William K. Greenlee, who is sending a representative, said "going bottled-water-free" would honor the city's legacy as the birthplace of public water.
Corporate Accountability says about a dozen other national parks and monuments have stopped sales, including Zion National Park in Utah and the Grand Canyon.
Local park officials did not comment.
Bottled water sales nationally have never been higher. New figures from the Beverage Marketing Corp. show that sales rose 5.8 percent in 2012 to $11.7 billion.
Industry advocates say the environmental footprint of bottled water keeps shrinking. The recycling rate is close to 40 percent, according to industry tallies, and in the last 11 years, the average weight of a half-liter PET container has fallen by nearly 50 percent.
Chris Hogan, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, said restricting easy access to "the healthiest packaged beverage" - without sugar, calories or additives - "is not in the consumer's best interest."
"Why aren't we also talking about other beverages?" Hogan added.
Susan Stribling, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, a major water bottler, said "eliminating plastic bottles ... limits personal choice."
Bottled water became contentious at the Grand Canyon. The park had planned to discontinue sales, but then the decision was put on hold.
In a 2011 memo to regional directors, park service director Jonathan Jarvis said that the issues surrounding plastic water bottles were "complex."
"Banning the sale of water bottles in national parks has great symbolism, but runs counter to our health food initiatives," he wrote.
The policy now allows individual parks to eliminate sales after extensive review. Critics denounced it as ... watered down.
The Grand Canyon eventually stopped selling bottled water in March 2012.
Park spokeswoman Shannan Marcak said the initiative "seems to be very well received." Water bottle prices range from about $3 to $20.
Marcak said a primary motivation was to reduce environmental impacts. Disposable bottles were making up 20 percent of the park's waste stream. Officials have not yet tallied the impact of the ban.