Industry Fights Chicago's Bottled Water Tax

| 1/17/2008 9:55:00 AM

Five cents a bottle doesn’t seem like much, but the bottled water tax that hit Chicago at the beginning of the new year has left the bottled water industry feeling all wet, reports Sustainablog’s Jason Phillip.

Bottled water is an environmentalist’s worst nightmare, ballooning landfills with plastic—less than 20 percent of plastic bottles are ever recycled—and encouraging waste, all for a product that we can easily get by picking up a glass and walking to the nearest sink. Bottled water could even be the first barrage in the unsettling privatization of public water supplies, Leif Utne has suggested in Utne Reader.

But we’re not in clear water yet. The Chicago tax, the first such levy in the nation, is being challenged in court by industry trade groups that argue it’s unfair because it doesn’t apply to other noncarbonated beverages such as sports drinks, coffee, or chocolate milk. Of course, Chicago does not provide inexpensive chocolate milk from the taps, otherwise I would move there, so taxing bottled water seems reasonable. But in the end it’s up for the courts to decide.

The poor bottled water manufacturers have a point, though: One bottled beverage has the same grim environmental footprint as any other. So why should water be singled out for shaming? Maybe because bottled water has become a symbol of Americans’ wanton wastefulness. We are paying for something we can get for free and destroying the earth in the process. Taken liken that, a five-cent tax doesn’t seem too hefty.

Brendan Mackie

T. Hughes
1/21/2008 6:08:33 PM

No one, not even those in the bottled water business will argue that our recycling is a mess and that all businesses need to aspire to being more eco-friendly. But all of you lemmings, like a bunch of torch carrying angry villagers, keep repeating the same misinformation without checking any facts or putting any numbers into perspective. First of all, this battle is not about taste or cost. It's about what's in the water. If you think the water that comes from your tap is purified, you're crazy. It is disinfected to the point it becomes potable. Municipalities will never truly purify becase it is expensive to do and less than 1% of municipal water is used for drinking. Plastic is bad - no arguement. But filling landfills? Plastic accounts for 1/3 of one percent of the waste stream in this country. Only 2/100ths of one percent of the our oil usage goes to plastic bottles. The amount of oil it takes to make one year supply of water bottles (1.5 million barrels) is consumed by this country every hour and a half. By comparison, plastic bags consume 12 million barrels per year and have a 7% recycling rate! Where is the outcry about bags! Where are the protesters! Where are the boycotting politicians and the taxes on bags! Did you know that the bottled water industry had reduced the about of plastic in its bottles by 40% over the last five years? Any other industry do that? Did you know that 60% of bottled water growth has come from the soft drink segment? Did you know 60% of bottled water drinkers also drink tap? Remember, tap water was there first. People switched to bottled because of the quality, not clever advertising. Do yourself a favor. Go to Google Alerts and enter "Boil Order". Then see how many boil orders are issued around this country every week. "City's water system is busted...boil your water or drink bottled water". Happens every day. When was the last recall on bottled water you heard about?

1/17/2008 4:44:12 PM

You've characterized it perfectly. It's symbolic of our incredible wastefulness. Thank God we are starting to see a turning of the tide on bottled water. The more awareness we can raise, the better.

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