Secluded Series

Film – Rotten: Troubled Water 

DirectorsDaniel Ruetenik

As part of our Secluded Series, this week under the spotlight is the docuseries Rotten. Rotten provides a snapshot of a plethora of global issues and subsequent impacts felt globally by citizens, such as bottled water, wine, chocolate and many more commodities industries…

A simple yet incredibly important question posed to the viewer is: whose water is it? This is evidently an underlying theme throughout this episode. 

Specifically, the focus of this episode primarily centres on the bottled water industry illustrating how this market is unsustainable, unethical and inefficient in the United States and the wider world. However, the oxymoron lies beneath the surface in the United States in Flint, where residents are forced to seek solace with bottled water. Similar to the developing world, where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to provide this necessary public service of safe, clean and affordable water. 

Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

Not far from scarcity and crisis, there is a town called Stanwood located close to the city of Evart, Michigan provides millions of litres of water for ‘Ice Mountain’ a week. Nestle, the parent company for ‘Ice Mountain,’ pays the same price as citizens for water. They also have their own wells on-site at their facilities. The cost incurred for permit approval to utilise a pump for effective extraction of water from underground is $200, where Nestles facility is located in Michigan. Poland Spring, Perrier, Deep Park, Ozarka and many more were all acquired by Nestle. The largest bottled water providers parent companies in the United States are; Coca Cola, Pepsi & Nestle.

Nestle are the world’s largest food and beverage company. As of 2008, Nestle Water became the largest bottled water brand of companies globally consisting of 51 distinct brands. Also, note that bottled water companies pay a nominal cost for obtaining this water.

Subsequently, the focus shifts to the marketing message and market consolidation. In order to keep selling spring water and matching the massive demand based upon successful marketing campaigns. Municipal water is regulated by the environmental protection agency, whereas bottled water is regulated at a federal level by the Federal Drug Agency, so the water bottle industry lobbied the FDA in order to implement reclassification of spring water in 1996, so they can drill into an aquifer, as long as it is connected somewhere to a spring. 

In West Michigan, a lawsuit from the Michigan Citizens for Water Conversation who were unhappy with the water extraction from Nestle that subsequently was shipped all over the country. Their grievances lay with the potential of Nestle depleting water resources locally. As demand increases, the apparent pressure to expand supply has the potential to deplete sources.

Photo by Nariman Mesharrafa on Unsplash

According to Nestle, their site at Evart is environmentally friendly and they are vested in the conservation of the local water supply. In California, Nestle were sued for illegally pumping water with an expired permit, subsequently, Nestle renewed the permit for pumping and continued to extract water. 

The extraction practices of the largest water bottling companies are set to continue for the foreseeable future, however, may be in the midst of the public backlash or media coverage  Nestle took the decision to reduce their market dominance/ US hegemony by the sale of a number of their water brands e.g. Poland Springs, Ice Mountain, Deer Park, Pure Life, Arrowhead among others, as of February 2021 to a New York based private equity firm. 

Further documentaries to watch after ‘Troubled Water’ – 

Bottled Life

Nestle’s response to bottled life documentary – Here.

Questions to consider – 

  • Do you drink bottled water? 
  • Is this something you would be willing to go without now? 
  • What is your thoughts on Rotten docuseries episode ‘A Troubled Water’?
  • Have you seen any other episodes of the Rotten docuseries?

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