Sin taxes have always been the most palatable of fees to voters who hate taxes. That's why cigarettes and alcohol cost so much. And it's why Chicago will start charging an extra five cents per bottle of water.
Welcome to the era of the eco-sin tax.
Chicago is the first major U.S. city to tax bottled water, according to the Chicago Tribune, but it isn't likely to be the last. Other cities have banned or limited the sales of bottled water, but if there's a way to capitalize on fashionable resentment of the waste embodied by the ubiquitous water bottle, you can bet more will opt for the Chicago solution.
If 2007 was the year in which public opinion turned against bottled water, 2008 could well be the year government starts to make a dime (or a nickel, as in the case of Chicago) on each bottle.
The seven sins of bottled water, in case you've missed them, are these:
Plastic bottles are made from petroleum.
The bottles often go into the trash, rather than the recycle bin (in part because many states don't offer five-cent deposits to encourage recycling, as they do on soda and beer cans and bottles).
The water is pumped far from where it is sold, creating needless pollution as trucks and barges transport it across the country or around the world.
Some local communities have objected to the sale of their water, arguing that the water underground or flowing from natural springs is publicly owned and should not be exploited for profit.
Bottled water is rarely as closely monitored as tap water.
Tap water in the United States, when provided by a municipal system, is the most highly monitored and safe supply in the world.
Some of the water sold in little plastic bottles is tap water, but it costs an awful lot more per gallon.
Surely, there are times when plastic water bottles are not only handy but essential. Sin taxes exploit public sentiment against this or that product, fairly or unfairly. But they can at least serve as a useful reminder that all water may be created equal, but its distribution is not.
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