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Documentaries are a great way to learn about a particular topic. However, it is essential to remember that most filmmakers have some biases. As a result, it is hard for viewers to know what to trust. In this article, we’ll help by examining the accuracy of “Tapped,” a documentary about a topic we know well –drinking water. We’ll start out with what the film got wrong and finish what they got right.
Tap water is inexpensive, but it is not free. Drinking untreated water is unsafe. Therefore, we pay municipal wastewater treatment plants to remove harmful bacteria, toxic pesticides, and other dangerous pollutants. Even well water requires careful attention to ensure safe consumption. All of this comes at a cost. While the bill is minimal, it is not free. Plus, our tax dollars pay for and maintain the infrastructure that brings water into our homes and businesses.
According to Tapped, “Coke and Pepsi tell us bottled water will make us thinner and more beautiful.” And, “They are always saying their product is healthful.”
These are not tricks. These are facts. You will consume fewer calories by drinking water instead of soda or sugary drinks. Water keeps your skin hydrated and can add an attractive glow.
Furthermore, drinking water offers several health benefits, including appetite control, improved muscle function, positive heart benefits, and joint mobility. Regardless of marketing tactics, water is undoubtedly the healthiest drink.
While it is true that some bottled water originates from a municipal source, that is not the whole story. This typically includes distilled and reverse osmosis products, which are both purified. Tapped’s claim that “they are taking our water and selling it right back to us” fails to acknowledge that the source water is treated via distillation or intense RO filtration, removing 99% of harmful dissolved solids and other contaminants. These procedures require complex industrial machinery, and it is unfair to delegitimize these high-quality products by suggesting they are simply tap water.
When Tapped asks if bottled water is “much cleaner and purer” than tap water, the answer is yes, with total dissolved solids (TDS) of less than 1 PPM. There is no chlorine in bottled water nor the risk of contamination from lead pipes. However, some confusion regarding bottled water is a matter of vocabulary. Tapped cites Dasani as an example of 40% of bottled water being filtered tap water. This is incorrect, as Dasani is reverse osmosis water, which is a significant difference.
Tapped says, “The bottled water industry is less than forthcoming when revealing what their bottles contain.” Not legitimate companies. Labeling laws govern the water industry. Specifically, the label must indicate the type of water and its source. Moreover, most reputable water companies are willing to share a recent water quality analysis. A quick Google search led to a report on Mountain Valley Spring Water, demonstrating that finding such information requires minimal effort.
The confusion may be because the FDA delegates some plant inspections to states. This is done under contract and may come with additional licensing requirements on the part of the water company. It could be because states handle intrastate commerce. Most water companies operate in a single state or, more likely, a region of a given state.
Tapped initially claimed that the FDA does not regulate bottled water. However, they later modified the statement to say that only one person at the FDA oversees the regulation. Regardless of the number of people involved, the FDA does regulate the bottled water industry under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). These regulations mandate practices that ensure the “safety, wholesomeness, and truthfulness of labeled food products.” 
Tapped claims that there is virtually no testing done on bottled water. However, water companies follow government mandates, and in Ohio, this includes the EPA and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. These agencies require regular testing by an outside laboratory. Additionally, many retail clients have their own set of testing requirements. Above all, a legitimate water company enacts a complete testing schedule to ensure a high-quality product.
Tapped envisions a world where vending machines no longer contain bottled water. First, however, we must consider what healthy alternatives can replace it. While filling a reusable bottle is a less wasteful choice, it may not be feasible in some situations. For example, soda or juice may be the only available hydration option during water bans, and both also come in plastic, single-serve bottles. Therefore, we need to explore and promote alternatives that are both healthy and environmentally friendly to make progress toward a sustainable future.
It is concerning that less than 1% of the earth’s freshwater supply is available for human use. This highlights the importance of freshwater as a valuable public resource, as Tapped suggests. A significant portion of this resource is in a public government trust, which ensures its protection. However, groundwater on private land is not included in this trust. The Ohio Constitution declares that the state and political subdivisions can somewhat regulate these waters. Tapped argues that this creates loopholes. Participants in the documentary suggest that we should strengthen our public water systems. We wholeheartedly agree that we must prioritize the protection and sustainable use of our freshwater resources for the well-being of our communities and the planet.
It’s a fact that consumers demand convenient, disposable products, and this trend is unlikely to change anytime soon. Single-use bottles, whether for water or soda, are particularly popular for on-the-go use at events such as festivals and sports gatherings. However, recycling infrastructure often needs to be improved in these public settings. Few or no receptacles are available, and recycling bins are usually overloaded with inappropriate materials. We need more effective and accessible public recycling receptacles to tackle this issue.
Tapped highlights the bottle bill, in which consumers pay a deposit for bottles, as an effective solution. While this program is only implemented in a few states, it has shown promising results. Our industry has adopted a similar approach for three and five-gallon bottles. This saves our clients money and reduces the need for new materials, promoting more sustainable production and consumption.
Tapped suggests that the water industry should bear the cost of recycling, but this may not be practical for single-serve bottles. However, for larger bottles, a similar program is already in place. Once these bottles reach the end of their life, we bundle and recycle 5-gallon bottles through a local partner. We do receive a small allowance for the plastic. Any additional recycling services required beyond this allowance are at our cost. This plan aligns with our commitment to sustainability, promotes the responsible use of materials, and minimizes waste.
Watch this video to learn about Distillata’s plastic water bottle recycling program.
In Tapped, a representative from the International Bottled Water Association says, “We do not consider tap the enemy.” The notion of “us versus them” misrepresents the situation. Both bottled and tap water play a crucial role in promoting the health of our community. We are happy to fill in when tap water won’t do. Additionally, we recognize the value of tap water as a resource for making purified water, which is essential in various settings, including healthcare facilities, laboratories, and other specialized environments. Overall, viewing bottled and tap water as complementary rather than competitive resources is essential.
Tapped ends by granting the water industry a place in disaster relief. Unfortunately, this is a true statement. We know this all too well with the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The Flint, Michigan residents are still using bottles years after the contamination of their water source. Every severe hurricane or tornado leads to a demand for bottled water. The municipal water source is often affected when a region faces a tragedy. Thank goodness there is an alternative.
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