Chicago Taxes Bottled Water
As the New Year begins, Chicagoans are getting some direct encouragement to forgo buying disposable bottled water and switch to reusable bottles filled with fresh, clean water from the tap. In November, Chicago became the first city in the U.S. to pass a tax on bottled water sold within the city limits. The 5 cents per bottle tax went into effect on Jan. 1, and is expected to raise $10.5 million for the city this year.
In addition to producing revenue that can be used to maintain the city’s water infrastructure, the tax is designed to encourage citizens to shift their hydration habits from bottled to tap water, which is essentially the same thing you get when you buy most bottled water brands. (Filtration with a charcoal filter such as Brita or Pur is a common step taken to remove any chlorine aftertaste, though it I think it tastes fine straight from the faucet.) The tax will also help reduce the number of the plastic containers that wind up in landfills (less than 20% of plastic water bottles in this country are ever recycled) and reduce the greenhouse gas and other pollution created by trucking all that water to retail sites.
Of course, the new tax is meeting some resistance from businesses with an interest in the wasteful status quo. In addition to news reports of grumbling from some consumers who are used to buying their water bottles by the case, the tax now faces a legal challenge from some industry trade groups. Yep, it turns out that a lot of the folks who profit from selling tap water are willing to sue to protect their share of this huge-margin business. Real shocker, right? Actually, the lawsuit isn’t really surprising when you consider the racket that bottled water has become. The fact is, consumers regularly pay more per ounce for bottled water than they do for gasoline—and it’s much easier to manufacture.