Earth Week INTERVIEW: ‘Tapped’ Director/Producer Stephanie Soechtig

Tapped poster and logos ©AtlasFilms, all rights reserved.

Back in March, we reviewed the stirring documentary Tapped, which chronicles the harmful environmental and health impact of our bottled water addiction. Since our World Water Day 2010 coverage, the filmmakers have embarked on an ambitious “Get Off The Bottle” 30 city, 30 day bus tour, set to conclude on April 22, Earth Day. Tapped director and producer Stephanie Soechtig took time out from the tour to talk to ScriptPhD.com about the tour, their efforts to educate people about bottled water, how the film’s release has impacted her, her wishes for changes in the advertising and marketing of bottled water, and things we can all do to make that happen. Day 2 of our Earth Week coverage continues on the theme of how valuable water is to our environment. For our interview with Stephanie, please click “continue reading.”


ScriptPhD.com: Where did the idea for Tapped come from? What inspired you to make this movie?

Is this the beach of the future? Garbage washes ashore from remnants of the great Atlantic Garbage Patch. Image ©ABC News.

Stephanie Soechtig: The initial idea for Tapped began with the movie’s executive producer Michelle Wolrath sending me a link to this video about the plastic stew in the Atlantic Ocean [the Atlantic Garbage Patch]. At that time, there was ten times as much plastic as there was plankton, and now we know ten years later that there’s forty times as much plastic as plankton. I saw all that plastic in the ocean and it physically hurt my heart. I thought, “How do we not know about this?” I was a journalist, so I was pretty well-read. And I was also pretty green, so I followed all of these things and I hadn’t heard of it. And so, that led to a continued discussion with my executive producers (a husband-and-wife team) about what other environmental issues might be out there that hadn’t yet been covered. Water and plastic kept coming up. And eventually, [we came to a consensus] to do a movie on bottled water.

SPhD: Can you talk about the arduousness of the filming schedule?

SS: I think that the filming seemed arduous at the time, however now in comparison to the 35-day cross-country trip, it looks like a walk in the park. We got to fly most places [during the filming] and we had a team with us, and everything paled in comparison with what we’re doing now. The toughest part about making Tapped was picking what actually got to stay in the film and what had to be cut, because there was so much to cover, and so the film kept evolving and taking on a life of its own. The filming process, while it was rushed, I have a news background, so I was used to a quick turnaround. It was a really good time, and we had a great group who were all primarily women. We had three moms on the staff, so it was great to create an environment for a group of women who were all looking out for each other.

SPhD: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but we’ll ask again. A huge thesis of the film Tapped is the dangers of bottled water usage. The number one alternative, of course, is to drink tapped water. However, the documentary Flow raises some questions about the safety of tap water. What is your response?

SS: You know, that’s not the impression I got from Flow. I knew they brought up problems with some tap water, but I always feel like Tapped picks up where Flow left off, with Flow as a perfect companion piece. We are aware that large portions of the country lack access to clean drinking water. We try to say it a few times in Tapped, that we believe there is a time and a place for bottled water. If I was in Mexico, I’m sure I would drink bottled water. And so, if you live in those portions of the country that don’t have access to clean drinking water, perhaps bottled water is a short-term solution. My concern is that I think we have all turned to bottled water as an alternative to tapped water. Rather than raising hell about lack of access to clean drinking water in parts of the country, we’ve just quietly gone and bought bottled water. And I think that sends a really dangerous message to our leaders that tapped water isn’t important to us. While I do think it may be a short-term solution for parts of the country [and world], and for disaster relief and times where it’s a healthier alternative, but for the most part, it’s become a dangerous alternative that has lulled us into this false sense of complacency to think, “OK I can get bottled water, so I’m fine.” As we know, 40% of bottled water is tapped water, so it could be suffering from the same problems depending on the area that it’s

bottled in.

SPhD: I’m lucky to live in a part of LA that has really clean tap water, so I don’t have to think twice about drinking tapped water that I quite frankly don’t even filter with a Britta. What do you recommend for people who have seen the film, who want to commit (or recommit) themselves to drinking tapped water, but they might have reticence?

SS: Yes, because again, the municipal supply may be safe, but you don’t know what the pipes are like delivering it. So what I would advise is one of two things. Have your water tested directly from the tap. Either send it out, buy an at-home testing kit, or a lot of the companies trying to sell you a filter will come in and test it for you. See what your water contains and buy the appropriate filter to filter out what you need. We have become fans of the filter called Multipure. The reason we like them is because they have some of the highest official certifications independently tested. And they also have a variety of options—you can have a house filter or a counter-top filter. So we like that they offer that price range for people.

SPhD: We’re big fans of media and advertising at ScriptPhD.com. And one of the things I loved about Tapped is that you talked about the genius advertising and marketing campaigns that have contributed to the popularization of bottled water. When you have famous celebrities like Jennifer Aniston endorsing SmartWater, could celebrities be convinced to not only end these endorsements but to promote something as unsexy as drinking tapped water?

SS: I would love that. If that’s the only thing that Tapped accomplished, and we didn’t sell a DVD for my whole life, I’d die a happy woman. That type of accomplishment and that type of endorsement of protecting our tapped water is long overdue and needed, but the municipalities don’t have the multi-million dollar budgets a company like SmartWater has. Speaking frankly, what I find upsetting is these people that make plenty of money on the films that they do—like Jennifer Aniston, who’s doing very well—would lend their faces to tap water and repairing the infrastructure. Which may be less sexy, but then again, that’s why you need someone like Jennifer to raise the awareness to it. We live in a celebrity-driven culture. It troubles me that she would endorse a product like this, and I have to honestly believe that she just does not know the truth about bottled water. That’s why we have a petition to her [and SmartWater endorser Tom Brady] on our website asking them to end their endorsement.

SPhD: It’s funny to me how plastic bottle manufacturers react to movies such as yours or anyone that brings up the deleterious issues of bottled water. Recently, for example, Dasani, which is a brand featured in the film, announced that they’re manufacturing bottles made partially out of “biodegradable” plant material. Meaningful change or greenwashing?

SS: I think it’s greenwashing. I wish it wasn’t. I wish I didn’t believe this. First of all, the fine print on the new Dasani plant bottle says “up to 30% of biodegradable material,” and that’s such a scam. Up to 30% could mean anything. The second problem is that they continuously sabotage the Bottle Bill, which we know increases recycling and has a proven rate of return. So putting 30% of plant material in a plastic bottle only makes it less recyclable because we don’t have the recycling facilities to process that type of material. It also emphasizes to me that they continuously argue against people like me, that plastic isn’t bad for you and I’m some crazy fearmonger. Well, if plastic isn’t bad for you, then why are they switching? I feel like they’re only underscoring my concerns about plastic.

SPhD: Well, it’s a well-known fact that the FDA has ignored BPA safety for quite some time, and is only now embarking on a controversial $7 million dollar study, when we know the ill-effects of this compound well and good. It sort of feels like the government has their hands tied behind their backs in terms of any meaningful change.

Kleen Kanteen metal water bottles such as these (and their equivalents on the market) are BPA free and can help severely diminish waste generated from use of plastic water bottles.

SS: And I’d say that they have their hands tied behind their backs by large lobbying dollars. As we have seen, money talks, and the public is sadly not a priority. The really interesting thing to learn was about the Toxic Substance Control Act. It’s 34 years old, and the burden of proof on the EPA to say that a chemical is dangerous can only be attained from the information that the chemical industry provides. So what happens is that I think BPA is safe, and I hand in to the EPA or the FDA my findings. But I make $11 billion off of this product, so I’m not going to hand in findings that show that anything is wrong with it. At the EPA and the FDA, I’m not given a budget to challenge these things. They only look at their science to raise concerns about their product. There is nothing logical about that.

SPhD: Let me ask you this, since you are literally on your road trip as you’re talking to us. What has been the response from people who have viewed the film and interacted with you during the 30 day road trip?

Stephanie Soechtig (left) and producer Michelle Wolrath (right) on their massive 30-day Tapped Get Off The Bottle tour. Kudos, ladies!

SS: We’re definitely making an impact. And that’s kind of the fuel that keeps us going every day. [For] people in the theatres, after Tapped ends, it’s nothing short of magical what happens after those Q&As. People are pissed, they’re inspired, and they become aware during the question and answer session how much the burden of change lies on their shoulders. So they look at us and say “Now what?!” and I would respond that it’s up to you. This movie is just something we created as a tool to bring about change. We’re heavily reliant on the public to spread this word, to say that this is important to them, and to make sure that they get it out there. And they’re into it! Which is so awesome to see. People will commit, come out and buy five DVDs at a time because they want to send it to everyone that they know.

SPhD: I think it’s such an important new methodology of enacting change. Fight corporate cash with grassroots power!

SS: I hadn’t realized how difficult it was to enact change with a grassroots movement. I thought people would naturally come out in the thousands and be like, “Of COURSE we care about tapped water.” But it’s not quite as easy as I had hoped it would be. It’s a very slow-growing movement, and of course we also have the problem of media that’s also beholden to advertising dollars. This makes it difficult to get the kind of exposure that may help us reach a larger audience. So we’re literally doing it one room at a time.

SPhD: One of the themes we continually come back to is corporations’ advertising dollars and power. One of the biggest corporations covered in Tapped is Nestle, for both their egregious practices of pumping water out of communities as well as how much they collude with plastic manufacturers. Any ramifications for these companies because of your movie and advice for customers that want to use their wallets to make a statement?

SS: We have seen bottled water sales go down this past year. Bottled water sales were doing nothing but going up for the past ten years. This past year we saw a slight dip. The water industry credits it to the recession. And that may absolutely have a lot to do with it, but I think there’s been a bottled water backlash, fueled in part by Tapped and grassroots organizations working tirelessly to get the word out there. So I think there are repercussions, and I think they’re getting desperate. There’s this guy, Tom Lauria, who is the lobbyist for the International Bottled Water Association, and if you go online to look at any story about Tapped or more recently about the story of bottled water, you’ll see he writes in to discredit the film. He spends his whole day doing it. The interesting thing about Tom Lauria is that he used to be the head lobbyist for the tobacco industry, and I think that’s no coincidence—that the bottled water industry would seek out someone who has that background, given the information that is coming out about both the environmental damage and the chemical dangers that people may be experiencing.

As far as consumers, the easiest thing is to not buy bottled water. I would say taking the Bottled Water pledge that we have on our site, which then gets sent to bottled water companies to show them how many people have agreed to give up their habit. And lastly, I think people underestimate the power of writing a note and complaining and fighting legislation and paying attention to the people we elect and letting them know what is important to us. Don’t sit back and hope that things will somehow take care of themselves. We have made it easy for people on the Tapped website to find and sign petitions.

SPhD: How has your consumption and behavior changed after the making of this movie?

SS: I formed a lot of new habits by bringing a Kleen Kanteen water bottle with me everywhere I go. But it’s actually changed my life in so many other ways, in trying to generate as little waste as possible. During the making of this film, I had a Starbucks latte waiting for me every morning. When you see the Garbage Patch, you realize it’s not just water bottles. They’re a big offender, but you start to cut down on all waste. We bring our mugs now when we want to get coffee, we stay away from plastic Tupperware, try to stay away from any plastic whatsoever. When I order food to go, I ask them to wrap it in tin foil. I’m just much more aware of how much plastic is out there, and how mindlessly we grab for it. It’s just the little things. Like for our road trip, one of our producers brought a Tupperware filled with silverware so that we wouldn’t use plastic knives and forks. Some people go to more extreme measures than others. And I have just decided that the message we need to send is that doing anything is better than doing nothing. Don’t think that any task or any sacrifice is too small.
*********

Tapped trailer:

A list of things you can do RIGHT NOW to get off of bottled water and help save our environment.

Urge a member of Congress to support The Water Protection and Reinvestment Trust Fund by signing a petition.

Visit the World Water Day website to find out about the global water crisis and see what you can do to make a difference.

CaptainPlanet is an LA-based, Northwestern University-educated, eco-charged sustainability guru who loves film, psychology and saving the planet, one waterless urinal at a time…

~*CaptainPlanet*~
*****************
ScriptPhD.com covers science and technology in entertainment, media and advertising. Hire our consulting company for creative content development.

Follow us on Twitter and our Facebook fan page. Subscribe to free email notifications of new posts on our home page.

9 thoughts on “Earth Week INTERVIEW: ‘Tapped’ Director/Producer Stephanie Soechtig”

  1. “Tapped” the movie proclaims it is on a mission to get people off of bottled water for the good of all mankind. But, on closer inspection, it is less of an idealistic documentary movie than a successful business enterprise. If you doubt this just follow director Stephanie Soechtig and producer Sarah Olsen as they embark on a 30-day/30-city cross-country tour in their custom made truck along with their sponsor Klean Kanteen®. Or maybe you should buy a $19.99 DVD from their movie company, Atlas Films, owned by Stephanie. From the Atlas website: “Founders Michael and Michelle Walrath and Stephanie Soechtig started Atlas with the goal of creating films that educate, entertain and inspire change. With private investments Atlas is able to truly embody the spirit of independent films.”

    Facebook Post from Stephanie on April 13, 2010:

    Stephanie Soechtig Guess who is #10 on iTunes!? Thanks y’all! So exciting! How high can we climb? How long can we stay in the top 10?? Thank you!

    “Thanks Y’all?” The girl graduated cum laude from NYU and lives in Los Angeles . . . .
    The “Great Lie” they are foisting upon their audience is the bottled water industry “aims to privatize and sell back the one resource that ought never to become a commodity: our water.” This is an absurd proposition because the bottled water industry uses such a small amount of water for their product and you simply can’t monopolize what you don’t control. “Millions of gallons a day” sounds awfully scary but it is a fraction of 1 % of the clean water resources available in the U.S. and far less than the amount of water simply leaked into the ground by municipal utilities every day.

    The second patent falsehood, repeated often, is the bottled water industry is “unregulated.” The bottled water is in fact regulated to a higher degree than municipal water systems by the FDA (using the EPA regulations as a starting point and then going further for stuff like lead) and the various States. And most importantly, unlike tap water, the FDA has zero tolerance for critical violations or temporary spikes in contaminants. The only major difference in the testing regime between bottled water and municipal tap is bottled water companies aren’t required to frequently test miles and miles of leaking pipes for contamination. They don’t have them.

    If you ever get a chance to debate with Stephanie during an interview ask her about the divergence between her hateful public stance towards plastic and her real life actions incorporating plastic. The CDs she sells are made of almost pure polycarbonate. The truck she drove on her tour was modified with a Lexan wall to show all the awful water bottles she collected and the roll down poster asking folks to “Get Off The Bottle” was made with polyvinyl. The sunglasses she wore on the trip, the clothing with microfibers, etc., etc. – all plastic.
    But what do you really expect from the former producer of Fox Networks “The O’Reilly Factor”, hard facts or salesman’s hyperbole?

    Baby, is it me, or are ya’ll just trying to make money . . . .

  2. Thanks to the magic of Google, it doesn’t take “all day” to bear witness to Stephanie Soechtig’s profoundly flawed “Tapped.” So much of the information in “Tapped” is flat-out wrong. The U.S. EPA reports that only 1/3 of 1 percent of the plastic waste stream is due to bottled water containers, which have the highest recycle rate of any plastic product container in single-stream curbside recycling programs. She’s worried about underground water supplies yet it has been verified by the non-profit Drinking Water Research Foundation that bottled water uses 2/100 of 1 percent per year, while the U.S. Geological Survey confirms a 3 to 7 percent annual recharge rate. Where is all this bottled water going? Into people’s bodies. Bottled water is for human hydration only. There’s no higher calling for water. We understand our “empties” are an environmental challenge so we are aggressively working with other industries on new and viable solutions.

  3. @JBS: Yes, the Tapped DVD costs money to buy because it cost money to make, and the filmakers, along with all human beings on the planet, have to make a living. The fact the the DVD is being sold for a price does not discredit the content of Tapped.

    Mentioning that Stephanie went to NYU and lives in LA isn’t relevant to the issues raised in Tapped. NYU is a good school, and LA is a cool city – so what?

    The devastation caused to the environment and human health by plastic bottled water is undeniable. Trying to dismiss the facts by saying that the bottle water industry only uses a relatively small amount of water is not a coherent argument.

    The FDA regulation of the entire bottled water industry is assigned to only one person, and bottled water isn’t that person’s only job. Bottled water companies exploit loopholes in FDA regulations because the FDA can only oversee products that cross state lines, so most bottled water is sold in the state that it was produced in so that it doesn’t have to be regulated by the FDA (not that the FDA has robust regulation for bottled water in the first place).

    Listing the various uses of plastic in Stephanie’s promotional tour does not detract from the fact that bottled water is devastating to the environment and our health. Tapped doesn’t say that a person should go through life without ever using or touching a plastic product. Tapped is saying that drinking water out of plastic bottles for the sake of convenience is devastating our oceans, our health and our underground water supplies. In this day and age we all depend on plastics to some degree, but the current practice of bottling water in plastic bottles is simply not sustainable.

    The fact that there are patches of floating plastic in the ocean bigger than the size of Texas, in which water samples contain more plastic than plankton, should be a giant red flag that our current system has some major problems, and we ignore them at our peril.

    @Tom Lauria: You mention that “so much” of the information in Tapped is wrong, yet you don’t state specifically what information is wrong. You go on to mention curbside recycling, a program bottled water companies are fond of becaues it forces municipalities to pay for cleaning up bottles generated by their industry. Studies prove that the most effective way to promote recycling is through charging a 5 or 10 cent bottle deposit at the point-of-sale to pay the consumer when they return the bottle to a recycling facility after consuming the product. Only a handful of states in the US have a “bottle-bill” and those states have the highest recycling rates in the country. And yet bottled water companies have lobbied against a national bottle bill because they don’t want to take accountability for their product. In economics, when a corporation pushes a negative effect of their product onto society, leaving the public holding the tab, it’s called an externality. The biggest externality of the bottled water industry is a floating patch of empty plastic water bottles in the Pacific Ocean – it’s called the Eastern Garbage Patch, and it’s twice the size of Texas. It will take over 500 years for those floating plastic bottles to break down – not exactly a “higher calling.”

    The fact is that corporations, including Nestle, Coke and Pepsi, are treating water as a commodity. If a corporatoin pulled up a giant truck to the Colorado Rockies and sucked all the oxygen out of the air and sold it at an oxygen bar in Manhattan, there would be riots in the street. And yet, corporations are doing the same thing with underground water supplies in small communities all over the country. Heretofore, the amount of water taken out of the ground by corporations may be a small fraction of the total available freshwater in the country, but now they have a foothold in the water-as-commodity business, a business that sold 29 billion bottles in 2007… well, you see where I’m going with this. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, there is enough water for human need, but not enough for human greed.

  4. “Tapped” exploits the ocean gyres to bash bottled water, as if empty bottles were the one and only plastic object involved. The film’s position is misleading and unhelpful. If we can achieve a 100% recycle rate for bottled water containers, there would still be ocean gyres and 99.75% of our landfills would remain unchanged. That’s also a problem with your advocacy of bottle deposit laws — they only deal with bottles! Curbside recycling programs collect everything! Wanna halt the gyres? Then collect everything!

    Once again, there is not a single bottled water company that is not regulated by the FDA. “Tapped” is completely in error that 70% escape regulation. Even the FDA testifies before Congress that it has full regulatory oversight over bottled water. And the film’s utter nonsense about only person at FDA regulating bottled water companies is seriously flawed. At the state and local level, there are many food inspectors and compliance officers. “Tapped” is seriously flawed on a basic factual level but anti-bottled water activists don’t care. But serious people do care. Bottled water is a very healthy, very convenient, very delicious food product that — like all other food products in containers — requires recycling.Bottled water does a lot of good for busy people on the go.

  5. LOL. Good to see that the industry shills have something to do all day, like spread disinformation on the internet. Really guys, you corporate spokesdogs really aren’t very good at being subtle. you stick out like a rotten, corrupt thumb. TAPPED is great.

  6. @ Tom Lauria – To say that Tapped “exploits” the floating patches of garbage in our oceans is a funny way to word it, as if the floating patches of garbage are some poor, helpless victim that Tapped is taking advantage of, instead of toxic waste dumps that seriously threaten the long-term health of our oceans. The amount of plastic in the ocean, from bottled water and other sources of plastic, has far-reaching ecological implications that will ultimately cascade up the food chain to humans. The difference between bottled water and other sources of plastic is that water bottles are produced to contain water, a substance which is already piped into our homes and businesses by water municipalities for a very reasonable price. Bottling water is inefficient and, in the vast majority of circumstances, unnecessary. Plastic bottles are made from oil, a non-renewable resource. At a time when there is so much awareness of using resources efficiently, why are we using oil to create plastic bottles to drink from, one time, and then throw away where they may end up in the Ocean where they will take 500 years to photo degrade? The production process of plastic bottles creates toxic byproducts (such as benzene, a carcinogen) that are literally killing poor families in communities like the one featured in Tapped in Corpus Christi, Texas. Also, the amount of oil it takes to haul bottled water from wells to bottling facilities to distribution centers to stores is unsustainable as well. Bottle bills promote higher rates of recycling, a proven fact. But whether a person recycles their plastic water bottle through curbside recycling or by returning it to a bottle center to get their deposit back, the bigger picture is that we shouldn’t be drinking out of plastic bottles in the first place. We should be drinking tap water (filtered or otherwise) from reusable containers. Any other model, including plastic bottles, is inefficient and unsustainable.

    Here is the FDA’s website on bottled water: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm046894.htm – It looks like an ad for the International Bottled Water Association, the organization Tom Lauria represents. There is a quote from the IBWA on the website — why would the FDA promote the IBWA on their website? The FDA is supposed to protect citizens from harm, not promote the industries that make the product. The website states that the EPA monitors tap water and the FDA monitors bottled water, so the earlier comment from JBS that says the EPA monitors bottled water is simply not true. If you read the website you’ll notice a list of bullet points that the FDA requires bottled water producers to do, including sample and test their water for safety. The FDA doesn’t test the water themselves, and the bottled water producers are not required t submit their tests to the FDA in a meaningful way. What this website proves is that bottle water producers are allowed to police themselves with little to no accountability to the FDA. When Tapped took samples of bottled water from the grocery store and sent them to a toxicology lab, the results were alarming. The list of chemicals the toxicology lab discovered in the bottled water would never quality for the “safe and delicious” category. Those “busy people on the go” may be drinking styrene, dimethyl phthalate, and di-n-octyl phthalate with their bottled water. Marketing and ad campaigns from the bottled water producers have tried to convince us that bottled water is safer than tap water, but there have been several re-calls of bottled water over the years due to safety issues, a topic explored in Tapped. When this issue is brought up with the bottled water lobbyist who is interviewed in the film, he claims to have no knowledge of any re-calls, but Tapped has the newspaper headlines to document many of the recent re-calls.

    The FDA official who is accountable for bottled water is interviewed in the film, and she herself confirms that she is the only person who regulates bottled water, and she also confirms that she has other responsibilities besides bottled water, so it’s not even her full time job. Municipal water is tested up to 10 times a day for safety, but bottled water is almost never tested, and when it is tested, it’s by the bottled water producers themselves – so, as Tapped so eloquently puts it, who do you trust? The water that is tested 10 times a day or the water that corporations test themselves and then sell to us for a huge profit?

  7. Shipping is unsustainable? Every product in America is shipped. Every single one. Why is bottled water any different? So tap water conveys through old and rusty pipes. I think that’s why you talk about people “filtering” it. But why filter it? Because the many industrial chemicals in tap water give millions of thirsty Americans pause. Millions prefer the taste and clarity of bottled water. SOme prefer natural spring water; others want the satisfaction of knowing their purified water is professionally, scientifically purified. (And not some flimsy refrigerator pitcher which does very, very little besides diminishing chlorine.) Why does Captain Planet denounce natural spring water?

  8. @Tom Lauria – Why denounce home water filters? Many water filters on the market today filter out much more than chlorine. Water is not a product – it is a requirement for life on Earth. Bottled water producers want to treat water like a commodity – as your comments indicate when you ask “why is bottled water any different.” Water is not just another widget to be sold at a profit. Tapped points out that part of the marketing campaign of bottled water producers is to exploit the public’s fears of the public water infrastructure, so your comments that water conveys through “old and rusty pipes” is predictable and disappointing. Yes, the pipes need to be upgraded/replaced which is why it’s important to demand this of our elected officials. Because water is already piped into our homes and business, shipping it is inefficient and unsustainable. And by definition, any activity (including shipping) that uses oil, a non-renewable resource, is unsustainable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *