Bottled water tax not yielding expectations

Some restaurants get rid of bottled water offerings
March 26, 2008 8:55:28 PM PDT
According to published reports, Chicago's new bottled water tax isn't yielding the amount of money expected.The nickel a container tax went into effect January first. According to the report, the city raised over $550,000 in January, but that was far short of $875,000 a month to meet expectations.

A city budget and management office spokesperson says because of cold temperatures, January numbers aren't a strong indicator of potential revenue for the rest of the year.

It appears many consumers may be avoiding the tax by stocking up in the suburbs. Some consumers may be trying to avoid the city tax by going to the suburbs for bottled water.

Twelfth Ward Alderman George Cardenas says he spearheaded the new city tax of a nickel a container of bottled water because saving the environment is his main concern.

"The tax was two-fold - one to raise revenue, the other is to dissuade people from the bottle," Cardenas said.

The tax was supposed to raise $10.5 million. But so far, projections are falling short.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association says sales of bottled water are way up at suburban stores like the Wal-Mart in Forest Park.

A spokesperson for the city budget office says it's too early to project dollar amounts from the tax because sales of bottled water generally are down in winter but pick up when it warms up in the summer. But the city actually has contradictory objectives. They need to raise money from the tax but they also want to encourage consumers to be more conscious of the environment.

4 Chicago restaurants quit serving bottled water

Management at four Chicago restaurants have decided to not serve bottled water.

An event was held Wednesday morning at The Balanced Kitchen on the city's North Side. That restaurant, along with Clarke's Diner, Heartland Cafe and Ina's, are now shifting toward using public water sources. It's part of the "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign.

Organizers say water is a human right and should not be a commodity to be bought and sold for profit.

"The best way to preserve that resource is to support it. If the municipalities feel that we don't have to take care of the water, because people are just drinking bottled water and nobody really uses it, then it becomes a commodity," said Josh Alper, The Balanced Kitchen.

Part of the event also included a water tasting of tap versus bottled water brands. Organizers say tap water won for taste.

Restaurant owners are not necessarily trying to avoid the tax. They say they're trying to help the environment.

If you want some water at Ina's Restaurant in the West Loop you'll get Lake Michigan's finest and nothing else. Ina's is one of a growing number of Chicago eateries that have stopped selling bottled water. They are happy to serve tap water. But the environmental cost of plastic water bottles, they say, is too much.

"Once in a while we get a request for bottled water from a customer who doesn't know. And we tell them, 'Sorry, we just don't serve any longer. And they're just fine," said Ina Pinkney, Ina's Restaurant.

Restaurants like Ina's say they make less money by pouring tap water instead of selling bottles, but they see the glass as half full.

Environmental groups have joined with restaurants in a campaign called think outside the bottle. They say 40 percent of bottled water is really just tap water anyway. And tap water even came out on top in a blind taste test.

"The fossil fuel cost is about 50 million barrels of oil just to produce, ship, market, dispose of water bottles in this country," said David Radcliff, New Community Project.

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