Plastic bottle politics | Bleader

Plastic bottle politics

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Joe Doss didn't care much for the recent proposal by 12th Ward alderman George Cardenas to impose a tax on bottled water in Chicago.

I discerned this when he recently called and told me, "A tax on bottled water isn't a good idea."

Doss is president and CEO of the International Bottled Water Association, which represents 450 companies. He said the association has already begun to address concerns about the petroleum used in making plastic water bottles and landfill space used up when people don't recycle them. The bottles are now lighter than they once were and use much less plastic than other beverage bottles, he said, adding that the association is a leader in recycling.

He also said bottled water production is responsible for less than 0.02 percent of all the groundwater used in the United States each year.

Contrary to popular assumptions, water bottlers are in favor of people drinking more tap water, Doss said. "We don't see tap water as our competition. We see juices and sodas and other beverages as our competition," he said. "Taxing bottled water could cause some consumers to turn to less healthy alternatives."

Cardenas seems to have gotten some of the same messages. He's now floating a new proposal: taxing all plastic beverage bottles. "I don't want to target a specific industry," he said Friday.

The city's facing a budget gap estimated at $217 million, and Cardenas, an ally of Mayor Daley's, said he's looking for ways to help the city raise money and cut costs. Taxing plastic bottles might discourage their use, which could reduce city sanitation expenses while helping the environment. "I want to look at this in a very holistic way," Cardenas said. "Someone has to clean these bottles up, pick them up, and keep them out of landfills. We have to raise the funds to be able to do that. Companies have to be willing do something about it."

Doss, though, said that plastic bottles are hardly to blame for our waste problems. All bottles made out of polyethylene terephthalate--or PETE, the most common form of plastic used for beverage containers--account for a fraction of 1 percent of the U.S. waste stream, he said.  

Cardenas, though, thinks way too many are ending up in Chicago's trash, and people are concerned. "People kind of made fun of me when I talked about this before because I didn't do a good job of explaining it, but our behavior has to change," he said. "I think people are waking up to this reality."

They certainly will if the mayor signs on to the idea and pushes it in budget discussions between now and November. He tends to get his way come budget time. "We've had discussions with the mayor's people, but I haven't sat down with him one on one about this," Cardenas said. "My understanding is that he's open to it but hasn't decided on anything yet."

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