Tapped explores the consequences that the explosion in popularity of bottled water over the last decade has had on local communities, who depend on the same resources as companies do to meet their water demands. Director Stephanie Soechtig highlights Nestlé’s practice of accumulating land endowed with freshwater resources across the USA for the purpose of pumping fresh water to sell on as bottled water. Focusing on the 2007 case of the community of Fryeburg, Maine, when Nestlé continued pump thousands of gallons of freshwater per day during a drought that saw locals subjected to restrictions placed upon their own water usage by local authorities. Though opposed to such practices, the local community saw its waters diverted and pumped, has seen none of the benefits promised by Nestlé, and has faced rising groundwater contamination from Nestlé’s plastic bottle production. The reality locals now face is that their water is bottled in packaging dangerous to their health and their environment, then sold back to them at 1000x the price of normal tap water. The documentary shows how Nestlé has engaged in an endless campaign of trying to diminish the value and trust that people have in their tap water. Soechtig lays bare how Nestlé has promoted its own bottled product as the “safe, “fresh”, & “healthy” option, the irony being that this water is, in multiple places across the world, that same tap water – bottled. The documentary concludes with a variety of actions consumers can take to help reduce plastic pollution and stresses on water resources, and touches on issues of poor governance, resource grabbing, and the unfairness that communities face in regard to water governance practices.


Tapped offers a very educational introduction to the issues surrounding large scale pumping of freshwater resources for use as bottled water, especially for small communities. Over the last few decades, there has been a constant increase in the use of bottled water across the world. Part of this growth is due, Soechtig’s documentary claims, to the belief that bottled water is pure and of higher quality compared to tap water. Tapped leads viewers to question if this is really the case? According to a number of studies, this indeed proves to be untrue, and consumers are often led to perceive their tap water to be unsafe even though it is of good quality (Saylor, Prokopy & Amberg, 2011; Jaffee & Newman, 2012; Hu, Morton & Mahler, 2011). Some research has found bacteria to thrive quicker in bottled water compared to tap water, especially in warmer temperatures (Figure 1).

Additionally, plasticizers and Eds that tend to leak from the plastic bottles to the water itself are already important polluters of bottled water (WHO, 2005; Bosnier et al., 2003). Water placed in plastic bottles and Tetra Pak bottles showed a higher increase in estrogenic contaminants, and this contaminant has been linked with breast cancer, showing that Soechtig is right to question the bottled water industry’s narrative of the purity of bottled water (WHO, 2005; Wagner & Oehlmann, 2009; Adeel et al., 2017). It has been proven that bottled water can contain chemicals such as DEHA, and Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), which have also been linked with various types of other cancers (Karlstrom & Dell’Amore, 2010). Based on this evidence it has become clear that the purity of bottled water is just another marketing trick by the big companies in order to increase their market share.

Despite the documentary’s drive to provide scientific accuracy and to educate, it fails to provide a concrete path towards finding a solution. After thoroughly analysing all aspects of the problem as a viewer one senses they are slowly working towards a solution and given the quality of the documentary you expect a promising one. However, as the documentary is reaching its climax, the final messages viewers are left with, as the credits roll, are individualistic solutions like do not buy bottled water, be aware of your water usage, and recycle plastic packaging. By coming up with solutions such as these, the documentary contributes to the individualization of environmental ills. This privatization of responsibility for environmental problems shifts blame from politics and the powerful bottle industry to the consumer (Maniates, 2001). Moreover, by doing this the documentary makers unintendedly followed the rhetoric Nestlé used in their response to this documentary: “whether used as drinking water in times when public supplies are not potable or as a convenient and healthful alternative to sweetened/caloric beverages, bottled water continues to be an important and preferred choice for millions of consumers” (Nestlé, 2010). In other words, Nestlé is saying that since millions of individuals are is still buying the product, it can’t be that bad. Literature offers different types of solutions, such as only allowing groundwater extractors that are proven to serve the public good in some way (Jaffee and Case, 2018) or regulation which restricts its pumping and sales (Jaffe and Newman, 2012).

Watching this documentary is a great way to ruin your night, but in a meaningful way. Director Soechtig does an excellent job at decomposing the US water bottle industry in an appealing way. The story starts in a small place in Maine and gradually the filmmakers zoom out and unravel more and more impacts of the bottle industry. The documentary in general is supported by constructive cinematographic shots, which illustrate what people are saying in the story. One example of this is the countless times the Nestlé water trucks are filmed passing through a particular village: because of this shot one can really understand how invasive it is for people’s lives when Nestlé decides to exploit a water well in a village. However, sometimes the filmmakers use cinematography in less classy ways, for example in the limited time industry representatives do get to explain their side of the story they are often lambasted while comical music is edited over it. Given the quality of how the documentary explains the horrors of the industry it does not need cinematographic tricks like this to make the industry look bad. Even without it the documentary makes you feel frustrated and infuriated enough. Overall, the documentary is very complete and nicely put together and really stresses the urgency of the problems of this industry. Unfortunately, despite this excellent documentary, the bottled water industry is continuing to expand its grip on US groundwater, with Nestlé winning even larger permits for water withdrawals across US communities (Perkins, 2019; Ellison, 2020). If only someone had listened…

Eli Morrell, Guus Kersten, Spyridon Zervos (Amsterdam Free University)



Adeel, M., Song, X., Wang, Y., Francis, D. & Yang, Y. (2017). Environmental impact of estrogens on human, animal and plant life: a critical review. Environment International 99, pp. 107-119. Elsevierhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2016.12.010

Bosnir, J. Puntaric, D, Skes, I. Klaric, M, Simic, S. & Zoric, I. (2003). Migration of Phthalates from Plastic Products to Model Solutions. Collegium Antropologicum 27(1).

Ellison, G. (2020). Nestlé wins legal challenge to Michigan groundwater extraction. Michigan Live News. Available from: https://www.mlive.com/news/2020/04/nestle-wins-legal-challenge-to-michigan-groundwater-extraction.html

Hu, Z., Morton, L. W. & Mahler, R. L. (2011). Bottled Water: United States Consumers and Their Perceptions of Water Quality. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 8(2). MDPI. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph8020565

Jaffee, D., & Newman, S. (2012). A Bottle Half Empty: Bottled Water, Commodification, and Contestation. Organization & Environment, 26(3), pp. 318-335. SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/1086026612462378

Jaffee, D., & Newman, S. (2013). A more perfect commodity: bottled water, global accumulation, and local contestation. Rural Sociology, 78(1), pp. 1-28.

Jaffee, D., & Case, R. A. (2018). Draining us dry: Scarcity discourses in contention over bottled water extraction. The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability 23(4), pp. 485-501. https://doi-org.vu-nl.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/13549839.2018.1431616

Karlstrom, S. & Dell’Amore, C. (2010). Why Tap Water is Better Than Bottled Water. National Geographic. Available from:  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/3/why-tap-water-is-better/

Maniates, M. F. (2001). Individualization: Plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world? Global environmental politics, 1(3), pp. 31-52. MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.1162/152638001316881395

Nestlé (2010). Nestlé Waters North America Statement on “Tapped”. Nestlé Waters. Available from: https://www.nestle-watersna.com/nestle-water-news/statements/nestlewatersnorthamericastatementontapped 

Perkins, T. (2019). The fight to stop Nestlé from taking America’s water to sell in plastic bottles. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/29/the-fight-over-water-how-nestle-dries-up-us-creeks-to-sell-water-in-plastic-bottles

Raj, S. D. (2005). Bottled Water: How Safe Is It? Water Environment Research, 77(7), pp. 3013-3018. DOI: 10.2175/106143005x73893

Saylor, A., Prokopy & Ambera, S. (2011). What’s Wrong with the Tap? Examining Perceptions of Tap Water and Bottled Water at Purdue University. Environmental Management, vol. 48, pp. 588-610. Purdue University, IN. https://doi-org.vu-nl.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s00267-011-9692-6

Wagner, M. & Oehlmann, J. (2009). Endocrine disruptors in bottled mineral water: total estrogenic burden and migration from plastic bottles. Environmental Science and Pollution research, 16(3). DOI: 10.1007/s11356-009-0107-7

WHO, (2005). Nutrients in Drinking Water. World Health Organisation, Geneva. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/nutrientsindw.pdf Last accessed January 18th, 2021


Additional Info

  • Director: Stephanie Soechtig et Jason Lindsey
  • Producer: Stephanie Soechtig, Sarah Gibson, for Netflix
  • Language: English
  • Year: 2009
  • Duration (min): 75
  • Theme: Domestic water, Water quality, pollution, Groundwater, Privatisation, Water and health
  • Access: Free
  • Country: Global, USA
  • Technical quality (star): Technical quality (star)
  • Academic interest (star): Academic interest (star)
  • Societal interest (star): Societal interest (star)
  • Technical quality: 4
  • Academic quality: 4
  • Social interest: 5