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.
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!
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.