The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 12, 2009

Tapped: Even More Arguments Against Bottled Water

I just finished watching the new documentary, Tapped, a polemic against the bottled water industry.  As regular Fake Plastic Fish readers know, I’ve written extensively against bottled water myself, providing a multitude of reasons to avoid the stuff: Bottled water is not as strongly regulated as tap water; it requires more energy to bottle and ship than tap water; it negatively impacts local community water supplies; it turns over control of a public trust to private companies; and of course, the plastic bottle lasts in the environment virtually forever.

Tapped covers all of these points and even some that were new to me.  View the trailer:

The film begins with the statement,

By the year 2030, two-thirds of the world will be lacking access to clean drinking water.  This is a problem every single person will be dealing with regardless of where they live in the world.

Many of us think that taking shorter showers and neglecting our lawns will solve this problem.  But the problem is much bigger than individual actions alone can solve because the majority of our water is used by industry  — including, of course, the bottled water industry.

Sucking Up Water During A Drought

Did you know that back in 2007 when Georgia and North Carolina were experiencing terrible droughts and citizens were severely restricted from using water, Coke and Pepsi kept right on extracting and bottling water from those communities?  Eugene Brown of the Durham City Council tells Tapped filmmakers that Pepsi was drawing 400,000 gallons of water per day during the height of the drought, and lawmakers could not get them to stop.

I did a little Googling to confirm this information.  Check out Raleigh resident Sue Sturgis’s post from February 2008 citing the difficulties faced by a region in a drought that is beholden to the bottled water industry:

One of the city’s biggest water customers is Pepsico, which bottles Falls Lake water that it purchases at the same rate as residential customers and sells at a dramatic markup: While a gallon of Falls Lake water costs $.0022, Pepsi sells its Aquafina product at more than $4 per gallon — one of the reasons Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown has called for a boycott of Pepsi products. But at the same time, the city can’t release information to the public about Pepsico’s water usage without opening itself to litigation.

As of today, the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council lists Durham County as “Abnormally Dry.” And is Pepsi still bottling there?  You betcha.  In fact, in 2009 the Raleigh plant was named the top production facility in the North American Pepsi system.

Not Competing With Tap Water?

Bottled water is all about control — who controls this most vital resource.  The more we support this industry with our dollars, the less support there will be to maintain and improve our public water infrastructure.  From the film:

When you begin to treat water as a commodity where the price of the water is dependent on supply and demand, you end up with corporate control of all of our drinking water.

Representatives from the International Bottled Water Association and the American Beverage Association all claim that they are not competing with tap water.  And in fact, when the BlogHer Green Team had our conference call with Pepsi, we were assured that Pepsi had no intention of competing with tap water.  Methinks they doth protest too much.  Bottled water can only harm our public water systems, not support them.

Paraxylene who?

Another lovely character introduced to me by this film is Paraxylene (pronounced like “Pair-a-zye-lean).  He’s one of the building blocks of PET plastic, the kind of plastic out of which water and soda bottles are made.  Paraxylene is a derivative of benzene, a highly carcinogenic chemical, which is derived from crude oil through a refining process at oil and petrochemical refineries (See “Why the Oil Industry Benefits from Bottled Water Sales“). One of the largest of these facilities, Flint Hills in Corpus Christi, TX, is just one of the many refineries polluting the air, soil, and ironically, groundwater of the people who live nearby.

Let me say this another way: Bottled water, which is touted by the industry as being purer than tap water, is contained in plastic whose manufacture contributes to pollution of our water resources in the first place.

Tapped interviews several of the residents who live near the plant, including Horace Smith who died before the film was released.  He sits in his chair against a backdrop of the smoke-belching refinery and tells us that he feels like trash.  Manipulative story-telling?  Sure.  But the fact remains that the Hillcrest neighborhood of Corpus Christi has elevated levels of cancer and a birth defect rate that is 84% higher than the state average.  The residents tell stories of burning noses and throats from benzene emissions.  You can read more of the Hillcrest residents’ stories in depth here.

What’s in Bottled Water?

So can these toxic chemicals leach into the bottled water itself?  We don’t know.  And why don’t we know?  Because bottled water is not required to be tested the way tap water is.  Because the FDA doesn’t require any outside testing at all and bottled water companies are not required to reveal the results of their tests OR the ingredients in the plastic.  In fact, the FDA only regulates products in interstate commerce, which means that if a product like bottled water is produced and sold within the same state, the FDA has no jurisdiction over it at all.

When we find out about contaminants in our tap water, it’s because of routine testing.  When we don’t learn about contaminants in bottled water, it’s because the tests are not done or publicized.  The contaminants could very well be there and we would never know.

What Can You Do?

1) Obviously, stop buying bottled water!

2) Buy a copy of the film and show it to everyone you know.  Or find a screening. Check out the Tapped web site.  They are constantly adding more to the list.

3) Sign Food & Water Watch’s petition to urge Congress to support our public water infrastructure by creating a Water Protection and Reinvestment Trust Fund. Read more about H.R. 3202 here.

4) Write to President Obama and ask him to set the example by refusing to drink bottled water. He just might be the sexiest president we have ever had, but these pictures are anything but. Here’s a link to send him a message. It’s simple: Protect our public water resources. Set the example. Stop drinking bottled water!

This whole bottled water scam would be laughable if it didn’t have such tragic consequences.

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wild dill fair trade toys

I only post ads for products I use myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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I’m not sure what to make of Mr. Lauria’s unusual position and uncanny persistence on this blog? Wait wait a minute. I remember now. This is the same Tom Lauria that used to be a tobacco lobbyist. I knew you sounded familiar Tom, I’m glad to see you haven’t lost it. Always putting a good face on the well-financed villain, I have to applaud your consistency. My Grandmother used to say, “Who’s really the fool? Is it the fool himself or the person arguing with him?” I would keep this in mind before you engage Mr. Lauria. He can’t be… Read more »


Well, i bet I contributed to the rise in the recycling rate of water bottles. The thing is, I never buy them. But once or twice a month we wander around our neighborhood and pick up trash out of the gutters, to keep the storm sewer grates clear (and because I have a little kid who thinks this is one of the most fun activities ever- treasure hunt!). So even though I do not buy plastic-bottled water, ever, I recycle 2 or 3 plastic shopping bags full of them – flattened, usually, since they come from the street – every… Read more »

Tom Lauria

Kristen: You have the IBWA position backwards. We argue that FDA has jurisdiction over every bottled water operation in the country. Every bottled water is heavily regulated by FDA. It is the anti-bottled water activists that incorrectly argue that an alleged 40% of bottled water companies are not regulated. That’s completely false. In many cases, IBWA’s self-imposed standards are tougher than even FDA. EcoYogini: Look up the Luddites in Wki. You know, the Scots who violently charged the machine-operated fabric looms — thrashing against the future with ignorance and fear. Plastic is the backbone of the modern world! It’s not… Read more »


I just wanted to correct an inaccuracy I found in your post. You wrote: ”In fact, the FDA only regulates products in interstate commerce, which means that if a product like bottled water is produced and sold within the same state, the FDA has no jurisdiction over it at all.” I understand that this is probably something you got from the film. But, it isn’t true. Congress’, and the FDA’s, control over bottled water does come from the Commerce Clause found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has ruled that under… Read more »


Bahahaha- seriously Tom? Usually I ignore ridiculous comments like yours- mostly because obviously you’ve already made up your mind and I’m hoping you’re a small small statistic in and of yourself. BUT… this is a little beyond. Let me kindly point out to you Tom- that Beth’s entire site is about eliminating plastic. She has several sources on how actually- recycling plastic is not enough. Plastic is forever. Each new water bottle created will be around for-ev-er. As for the whole pollution-lead-greenhouse emissions circular discussion, regardless of my opinions (ruchi said it all best), Tom you are RIGHT. Clean and… Read more »

Tom Lauria

Dear Abby: Gallon for gallon, bottled water is tested MORE than tap water. Plus, tap water is tested at the reservoir, not your kitchen tap. Anything nasty that happens between the testing source and your tap is uncharted territory. I refer you to a major investigative series of articles by the New York Times on unreported problems with tap water. Dear Chicken: The FDA recommends consumers not eat plastic bottles, utensils or containers. There is no known nutritional value and you are removing valuable material from the recycling stream. Let me know where yoyu live and I’ll refer you to… Read more »

Crunchy Chicken

Normally, I just drink tap water. I think it tastes great. When I’m at home I drink straight from the tap since I don’t like the filtered water from my GE Profile fridge because the water is too cold. When I’m at work I drink the water from the kitchen sink. I am generally never at a loss for cups, mugs, or portable containers to fill said water from the tap. But, after reading all these compelling arguments from Tom, I’ve decided that, perhaps, I’m going about it all wrong. So, starting tomorrow, I’m going to start drinking bottled water.… Read more »


Not to mention that tap water is more regulated and tested for safety than bottled water, so the “old pipe” argument doesn’t (ahem) hold water.

And yes, all bottled beverages are mostly water, and therefore should be in the same category as bottled water. I avoid them all!

Tom Lauria

1.) Transportation of evedry single object on Earth involves green house gas emissions — Bottled Water is being unfairly singled-out by a woman who insists on telling us all how to live our lives. 2.) Production of every man-made thing on Earth causes greenhouse gas emissions. It’s literally unavoidable. A simple campfire is huge producer. 3.) Of couse PET can, and is, be recycled. The point is keep on keepin’ on and get the rates up. 4.) Natural sources of underground water, in aquifers, is constantly recharging with rain and melted snow. Bottled water consumes 2/100 of 1% of that… Read more »

ruchi aka arduous

Tom, if you’ll notice, Beth doesn’t single out the plastic from plastic water bottles. She has eliminated as much plastic from her life as possible, including plastic containers at Whole Foods and plastic water bottles. I understand that you think that it’s unfair that plastic water bottles are being targeted when there is so much other plastic waste around. But just because there is other plastic waste doesn’t make plastic water bottles OKAY. Now you happen to think bottled water is tastier than tap. I happen to disagree, but whatever it’s subjective. So your points are basically: 1. Plastic is… Read more »

Tom Lauria

I just got back from WholeFoods, where I grabbed a sandwich for lunch. Nearly everything in that huge store is packaged in plastic. In the water aisle — yes, it’s that big — there were plenty of small, family brands and brands like “ReSource” in it’s 25% rPET bottle, so progress is being made. Now with aisle after aisle of plastic containers, I have to ask myself: shouldn’t everything here be recycled, and not just the water bottles? Answer: yes. OK, then why single out bottled water? I am told the answer is that it comes out of a tap.… Read more »

Tom Lauria

I seem to be a busy guy around “Plastic Fish,” all of a sudden, The statistic on small business comes from our own membership ranks. There’s a terrific video on You Tube called “I Am Bottled Water” that will introduce you to family bottlers. Sure, the big companies bottle water — they have to, it’s incredibly popular! — but the base of the business is in hundreds of family firms, man y in the Home and Office Delivery (HOD) arena. That’s the five-gallon water containers for coolers; the ones that are sterlized and re-used 50 times before being recycled. IF… Read more »

ruchi aka arduous

Tom, I appreciate that you have a difficult job that you are just trying to do well, but none of your arguments really hold water (tee hee) at all. First, your argument that 90% of bottled water companies are small family-owned businesses. You failed to cite a source for this statistic so I’m not sure where you got it from. Moreover, I fail to see the real value of the statistic, and I believe you are using this statistic in a deliberately misleading way. If you have 100 bottled water companies, and ninety are small family-owned businesses and ten are… Read more »

juegos poker

That’s so typically that big companies think that they can go outside what’s commonly agreed upon. I’m referring to what you said about Coke and Pepsi.

Kellie @ Greenhab

Tom Lauria said: “If people are going to a vending machine, what should they buy? What item in the vending machine is not made of plastic? ” People should bring their own water in a reusable bottle so that they don’t need to go to a vending machine. Of course it’s inevitable that we’ll all find ourselves thirsty and empty handed at some point in time. In that case, I don’t think anyone who is opposed to bottled water would deny you a bottle of it. And no one is saying that you should pick soda over bottled water in… Read more »

Debra Birkinshaw

Oh, and so nice to see Representative Dennis Kucinich from Ohio advocating against the water bottle industry. Can you imagine, the next thing that corporations will think to do is to bottle air, and then we will truly be in a pickle-fully dependent on corporations for the very necessities of life-food, water, and air!

Debra Birkinshaw

I read numerous articles regarding the harm of plastic bottles, and plastics in general in the environment. I am a stainless steel water bottle convert.

I believe that one factor is health-related-some of the plastic from the bottle can be leached into the water you drink, if the bottle is heated. And who knows how long the bottled water stays in warmer temperatures, as it is trucked to stores? Keep up the good writing, Beth.

mother earth aka karen hanrahan

I was not aware of the release of this documentary. I will have to add it to my list to see. The comment from Tom Lauria is so narrow minded. I am stunned. What % of people think just like him? Let’s eliminate vending machines Tom, and then the choice of what junk to buy will be a complete non-issue. If those small family run businesses can make bottled water, I bet they can make something else. Empty water bottles are the most recycled item in single stream recycling programs. That is so NOT something to be proud of!!

Tom Lauria

We at IBWA participated in the filming of “Tapped” and were disappointed in how our informative comments were discarded. Do you realize 90% of bottled water companies are small, family-run businesses? According to plastic industry studies of recycling, empty water bottles are the most recycled item in single-stream recycling programs. Blogs like yours should encourage morew recycling and not discourage consumption of water — in any form. Water is fundamentally good for all people. We live in a busy world and have bottled water there when you want, regardless of what you are doing, is always a plus. If people… Read more »


Thanks to reading your post I got to see Tapped last night in San Rafael. I was struck by so much but primarily how the advertising world has so fabulously suceeded in selling us our own water for the benefit of huge corporations. It’s brilliant really. And then of course I was struck by the shots of the plastic particles in the ocean. It makes overfishing seem like a walk in the park.


Have you seen the movie Flow? If so, would you say that Tapped is different enough to merit showing both in a film series?


While a gallon of Falls Lake water costs $.0022, Pepsi sells its Aquafina product at more than $4 per gallon”

This is one of the biggest reasons filling a reusable water bottle form the tap makes sense- Costs. Should even appeal to the strongest tightwad!


What a fantastic post Beth. For myself the whole issue of bottled water has always been about the human rights issue. The entire concept of corporate control over our water scares the crap out of me.

Thank you for posting such a passionate article. :)

Robert Adams

The reason that the bottled water industry is so huge is the FACT, yes FACT that bottled water is the healthiest choice for drinking water, even if the unhealthy ones made from tap water or purified water. What you guys need to get angry and upset about is Pepsico and Coke is using the water to make their soda/soft drinks, which uses over 14 liters of water to make 1 liter of their toxic drinks. Bottled water only contributes to 0.04% of sales of any bottled beverage. Here the FACTS, stop focusing on the wrong thing. Welcome water in any… Read more »

Jeanne of EcoLabel Fundraising

MAJOR PET PEEVE! I really dislike bottled water. If you dare bring one in my house (poor souls), you will undoubtedly get an annoying lecture from me on all the ways you can avoid it and why…..

Great post!

axelle fortier

At the first evening of a series of disaster-preparedness training sessions sponsored by the city of Oakland, our moderator said that budget cuts no longer allowed for the provision of bottled water to participants. She apologized for the inconvenience this would cause and said we could buy bottled water and soda from the machine in the lobby, plus there were drinking fountains throughout the building. She then presented the first speaker, a fireman. Before he began his talk, one of the participants, a guy, asked the fireman if he, too, was being deprived of bottled water. The fireman said yes.… Read more »

Erin aka Conscious Shopper

I only moved to Raleigh a year ago, so I wasn’t here for the drought, but I was blown away by what you wrote about Pepsi and Falls Lake. The Sierra Club here has been looking for a documentary to show relating to some of the issues here. Wonder if this one is coming to Raleigh, and if not, how we could get it here.


If I were in America, I still would not dream of writing a letter to Obama about his drinking water choices. Getting local governments to stop spending your money on bottled water for public employees seems like a better use of time and energy. Barack Obama spends a lot of his time in a government office. Does the Whitehouse provide residents with bottled water?

Lynn from

Beth, As you saw from my tweets, I saw the movie at a screening yesterday at DC’s GreenFest. It was incredibly powerful film and very eye-opening for me. I felt a bit sheepish because I’ve been SO exposed to the issues with plastic through your blog, through the Green Moms Carnival on Bottled Water, the situation with the Green Team at BlogHer and more, but yet this film was eye opening. Like you, I was extremely impacted by the fact that the bottlers pump even during DROUGHT conditions. I spoke at length with the filmmaker and hope to post about… Read more »


All the more reason to pick up a stainless steel water bottle @ Walgreens for as little as $3.99. NO EXCUSES!

John Costigane

Hi Beth,

I totally agree with your take on bottled water. One annoying aspect is the promotion of bottled water in TV shows, where stars are seen to hold the bottle with the audience attention focussed. Sportstars are also dupes to this industry but have no alternative to bottled water, save bringing their own filled bottles.

Tom Bailey

I like your blog. This an interest cause you are working on here. Vist my blog and share your thoughts.

I think that things are going to change in the area of bottled water.

Best regards