Hitting the Bottle

"Tapped" reveals inconvenient truths about bottled water.

The documentary ”Tapped” takes a critical look at bottled water and provides an unsettling tally of the industry's sins. Director Stephanie Soechtig was inspired to make the film after her friend, executive producer Michelle Walwrath, showed her footage of the North Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas.

“Tapped,” which took eight months to complete, begins by revealing the ethically dubious way in which bottled water companies (Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are chief targets) harvest potable water from communities that often do not have enough water for residents. It goes on to criticize pollution-spewing petroleum refineries where plastic for the bottles is made, details water bottlers' subtle attempts to generate mistrust of tap water (even though municipal water is much more thoroughly tested and regulated than bottled water, which is entirely self-regulated) and shows where cast-off bottles wind up: lining landfills and choking the oceans.

The film also details the bottled water industry's love/hate relationship with recycling. Officially, the industry supports curbside recycling as the preferred means of disposing of its products. This overlooks the fact that only 50 percent of U.S. residents have access to curbside recycling. It also means that bottlers expect municipalities and waste companies to foot the bill for recycling their products.

Moreover, says the film, the industry actively lobbies against container deposit legislation (commonly referred to as “bottle bills”), which adds a small deposit to bottled beverages, refunded when those bottles are turned into recyclers. The deposits yield a huge boost to container recycling rates. States with five-cent deposits see return rates between 60 and 80 percent. Michigan, the only state requiring a 10-cent deposit, enjoys a staggering 96.9 percent return rate according to the Michigan Department of the Treasury.

“According to the Container Recycling Institute, it does end up costing [water bottlers] about a penny more per bottle when all is said and done,” says Soechtig. “So I think it comes down to simple greed. I think for all the greenwashing they do about their concern for the Earth and their support of curbside recycling, they support recycling as long as they don't have to pay for it.”

Soechtig says waste and recycling handlers can get involved by supporting bottle bills and other legislation that boosts recycling, while educating the public about the consequences of consumption. “I think we take for granted that we can just throw something out and we don't have to live with it anymore.”

“Tapped” can be purchased on DVD at www.tappedthefilm.com. It is also available on iTunes and through video on demand on some cable providers. A 15-minute cut of the film also is available for educational use.

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