Definitely go and watch the excellent documentary Tapped. As soon as you can, before the next episode of Jon Stewart or Married to Rock, or whatever your viewing pleasure may be. Then go out and recommend it to everyone you know.

The movie addresses what the filmmakers call “the not-so-new bogeyman in town: the bottled water industry.” They explore a variety of issues that are all bonded together with those tiny molecules of hydrogen and oxygen – privatization to plastics and farming to pharmaceuticals, all topped off with a healthy dose of environmental (in)justice.

I knew there were issues surrounding bottled water from an excellent water law class I took – I just didn’t know what they were. The professor slyly pointed out that “Evian” spelled backward is “naive” before stating that he was prevented by court order from sharing anything he knew about the bottled-water industry. We moved on to specifics of California water law. A few year later, now, Tapped fills in the blanks.

Here are a few of the points the movie made:

  • The business of bottled water began around 1989 when the introduction of disposable plastic bottles made it cost-effective.
  • Now the bottled water industry collectively generates over a billion dollars in sales each year.
  • Water bottling companies purchase or lease water rights from private parties to pump water from the ground to sell to us.
  • The quality of bottled water is not regulated by the FDA or anyother governmental agency. Municipal water supplies are. In fact, many tap water quality reports are even available online.
  • Communities located in close proximity to plastic bottling plants experience increased overall health problems.
  • Millions of plastic bottles are casually disposed of, eventually making their way into one of the five enormous plastics patches in the world’s oceans.

I’ve seen first-hand that plastic ends up in the ocean. One Monday recently I picked 12 plastic bottle tops from the sand in just 100 yards.  And years ago before I knew about Pacific Garbage Patch I saw the detritus it left behind on a remote tip of Molokai, where there were so many bits of broken plastic and styrofoam I wondered if there was a shipwreck offshore.

Water politics continue to spring up in the news. I watched this movie yesterday, and today news about Fiji Water caught my eye. Fiji is an American company privately owned by the couple who own Franklin Mint, Teleflora, and POM that contracts with the Fijian government for the rights to extract water from the island to sell all over the world. Earlier this week, management shut their plant in Fiji and laid off 400 workers to protest a new government-imposed eight cent per liter tax. Today they reversed their plans and resumed production.

Although the status quo in this industry is not at all sustainable, I’m in complete support of everyone’s right to make a buck, from day laborers to entrepreneurs. Right now, then, the world needs all the visionaries we can get to help brainstorm ways to keep people employed while not trashing the world we inhabit.

Like all the problems in the world, the issues raised in Tapped seem huge and pressing and seemingly insurmountable. But knowledge is power, and we can start small. When the kids were younger I used to think it was a wise mother-like thing to do to keep a case of water in the back of the car. I’ve stopped that – the boys are all hip now with their stainless steel bottles filled with tap water tucked into their school backpacks.

What are your ideas?