Proposed Bottled Water Tax Sends the Wrong Message

August 22, 2007

by Guillermo Gomez, HSC Chicago Director

Recently, Chicago Alderman George Cardenas (12th Ward) proposed a new tax on bottled water purchased in the city. Although the proposed tax of 10 to 25 cents per bottle may help reduce garbage, its main goal is to help cover a $217 million gap in the city’s budget.

Bottled water has come under a lot of fire lately for its environmental impact: The New York Times reported on a trend of feeling guilty for buying bottled water, MSNBC covered a movement of upscale restaurants removing bottled water from the menu, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described a private school removing water from its vending machines and giving students reusable water bottles instead.  But this would be the first effort to actually tax it.

Now, we love our sturdy reusable water bottles here at HSC. They help us stay hydrated without creating garbage or using natural resources to produce plastic bottles and transport them across the country. They help us save money, too.

At the same time, we’re aware of the epidemic levels of obesity that kids today face, and the complications such as diabetes that go with childhood overweight. We’re also aware of the billions of dollars spent every year to market sugary soft drinks and nutritionally empty “juice drinks” to kids.

In this climate where sodas, sugary smoothies, fattening coffee drinks and high-calorie artificial fruit drinks seem to be sold on every corner, it’s alarming that anyone would consider making it more difficult to choose the healthiest option:  water.

A tax that would discourage the purchase of bottled water seems dangerously close to encouraging the purchase that other drink that comes in a plastic bottle but has the negative consequence of contributing to the obesity epidemic.

It’s ideal when schools give kids reusable water bottles and have plenty of working water fountains. But the truth is that in a lot of schools – especially older schools in low-income communities – you can’t find a working water fountain to get a sip or refill your bottle.

When kids are faced with a choice of buying bottled water or buying a sugary drink, the last thing they need is a tax to discourage them from drinking water.