The survival of humans, and of every ecosystem on Earth, relies on water. As one of our most essential resources, we cook with it, bathe in it, wash with it, and play in it. And, of course, we drink it. Water strengthens us, nourishes us, and purifies us—body, and soul. But why, when safe drinking water is available almost anywhere to Americans at the simple turn of a tap, are we continuing to spend billions of dollars to buy bottled water? And perhaps more importantly, what exactly is behind those ethereal blue labels? What exactly are we paying for? The truth, it seems, is not so pure.
Tapped, directed by Stephanie Soechtig and Jason Lindsey, is a smart and stylish documentary that takes an unflinching look at the dark, even deadly consequences of our modern obsession with bottled water. Calling upon environmental scientists, politicians, and everyday citizens, this film’s complex, informative, and engaging, narrative illustrates the power and corruption of what has become a multi-billion dollar industry. More profoundly, it shows how this industry’s capital gain only happens at the cost of our health, and of the pollution of the natural world.
Originally released in 2009, Tapped isn’t new, but it’s crucial, and is a film that, regardless its of praise by critical audiences, has been vastly overlooked. This problem—the environmental, political, economic, and health-related consequences of buying and drinking bottled water—is now more pressing than ever. And by a simple glance at the abundance of bottles lining the retail shelves of any grocery store, gas station, or yoga studio, we can see it’s a problem that’s nowhere near being solved. With the buying and selling of bottled water as an issue unique to only the past two decades, and with its clear consequences for the decades to come, Tapped may be one of the most important environmental films of our generation.
The film begins in Fryeburg, Maine, where the Swiss-based Nestlé Corporation has recently built a bottling plant for Poland Springs water. Here, Nestlé, like so many other water bottling companies, has taken control of a small town’s water resources, where the needs of the corporation are met first, and those of the citizens come second. It’s these opening sequences, which juxtapose Fryeburg’s tranquil inland lakes and babbling waterfalls with those of people walking through its town square carrying bottles of Poland Springs water, that pose the central question of the film: When did water become a commodity, and why have we as consumers allowed it to happen? How has something so simple, natural, and vital become privatized, advertised, and capitalized upon? Is water a human right, or, like so much else, has it become a privilege?
Without giving away too many of the film’s shocking revelations, I will note that one of its most unsettling moments is its revelation of how bottled water, contrary to its labels that boast of “purity,” is often more contaminated than tap water. Why? Because while municipalities are required by the EPA to test local drinking water sources several times a day to ensure the safety of their communities, corporate water bottling companies, due to the fact that their industry is almost completely self-regulated, are not required to regularly report on water quality. The film exhibits a series of tests by scientists on several different brands of bottled water, the results of which reveal traces of arsenic, harmful bacteria, and other contaminants, including BPA, the organic compound found in many types of plastic, which can contribute to cancer, reproductive dysfunction, and other health problems. In other words, despite what a label says about its water being “pure,” “healthy,” and “natural,” consumers are putting their trust, and their health, in the hands of self-regulated corporations every time they drink bottled water. Suddenly, what we consider to be a grocer’s healthiest beverage option doesn’t seem so healthy, and definitely not worth billions of dollars we’re spending to buy it.
As the film briefly suggests, does drinking bottled water offer us security, such as a baby sipping from its bottle? Is it a status symbol? A neurosis? Does it simply speak to our culture’s obsession with newness, and with possessing material things? Most likely, we just buy bottles of water because it’s convenient. And if it really does just come down to laziness, we must decide that as humans, we can be stronger than that. The idea of allowing our landfills, and ultimately, our oceans, to become filled with discarded bottles simply to fulfill our own immediate self-gratification is a fundamental crisis that must, and can, be stopped.
How? Buy a reusable bottle and a water filter. Drink the clean, healthy water that your tax dollars are already paying for. Vote with your dollar by refusing to buy bottled water, and let the laws of supply and demand do the rest. And finally, watch and share Tapped. It’s time to free ourselves from our dangerous addiction to bottled water, and there is no better way to begin this process of change than by watching this startling, yet deeply illuminating film.
Thirsty for more? Visit tappedthemovie.com to learn where you can see the film, and how to take action on this important issue.