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Annotated captions of The Story of Bottled Water in English

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The Story of Stuff Project and Free Range Studios

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This is a story about a world obsessed with stuff.

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It's a story about a system in crisis.

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We're trashing the planet.

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We're trashing each other.

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And we're not even having fun.

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The good thing is that when we start to understand the system,

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we start to see lots of places to step in and turn these problems into solutions.

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The Story of Bottle Water with Annie Leonard

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How "manufactured demand" pushes what we don't need

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and destroys what we need most

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One of the problems with trying to use less stuff

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is that sometimes we feel like we really need it.

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What if you live in a city like, say, Cleveland and you want a glass of water?

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Are you going to take your chances and get it from the city tap?

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Or should you reach for a bottle of water that comes from the pristine rainforests of... Fiji?

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Well, Fiji brand water thought the answer to this question was obvious.

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So they built a whole ad campaign around it.

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It turned out to be one of the dumbest moves in advertising history.

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See the city of Cleveland didn’t like being the butt of Fiji’s joke

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so they did some tests and guess what?

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These tests showed a glass of Fiji water is lower quality,

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it loses taste tests against Cleveland tap

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and costs thousands of times more.

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This story is typical of what happens when you test bottled water against tap water.

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Is it cleaner?

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Sometimes, sometimes not.

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In many ways, bottled water is less regulated than tap

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Is it tastier?

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In taste tests across the country, people consistently choose tap over bottled water.

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These bottled water companies say they’re just meeting consumer demand

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But who would demand a less sustainable, less tasty, way more expensive product,

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especially one you can get almost free in your kitchen?

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Bottled water costs about 2000 times more than tap water.

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Can you imagine paying 2000 times the price of anything else?

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How about a $10,000 sandwich?

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Yet people in the U.S. buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week.

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That’s enough to circle the globe more than 5 times.

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How did this come to be?

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Well it all goes back to how our materials economy works

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and one of its key drivers which is known as manufactured demand.

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If companies want to keep growing, they have to keep selling more and more stuff.

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In the 1970s, giant soft drink companies got worried

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as they saw their growth projections started to level off.

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There’s only so much soda a person can drink.

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Plus it wouldn’t be long before people began realizing that soda is not that healthy

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and turned back to

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gasp...

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... drinking tap water.

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Well, the companies found their next big idea in a silly designer product

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that most people laughed at as a passing yuppie fad.

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Water is free, people said back then, what will they sell us next, air?

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So how do you get people to buy this fringe product?

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Simple: You manufacture demand.

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How do you do that?

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Well, imagine you’re in charge of a bottled water company.

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Since people aren’t lining up to trade their hard earned money

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for your unnecessary product,

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you make them feel scared and insecure if they don’t have it.

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And that’s exactly what the bottled water industry did.

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One of their first marketing tactics was to scare people about tap water,

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with ads like Fiji’s Cleveland campaign.

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“When we’re done,” one top water executive said,

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“tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”

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Next, you hide the reality of your product behind images of pure fantasy.

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Have you ever noticed how bottled water tries to seduce us with pictures of mountains streams and pristine nature?

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But guess where a third of all bottled water in the U.S. actually comes from?

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The tap!

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Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Dasani are two of the many brands

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that are really filtered tap water.

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But the pristine nature lie goes much deeper.

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In a recent full page ad, Nestlé said:

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“bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.”

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What?!

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They’re trashing the environment all along the product’s life cycle.

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Exactly how is that environmentally responsible?

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The problems start here with extraction and production

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where oil is used to make water bottles.

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Each year,

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making the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. takes

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enough oil and energy to fuel a million cars.

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All that energy spent to make the bottle...

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even more to ship it around the planet...

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and then we drink it in about 2 minutes?

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That brings us to the big problem at the other end of the life cycle:

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Disposal.

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What happens to all these bottles when we’re done?

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Eighty percent end up in landfills,

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where they will sit or thousands of years,

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or in incinerators, where they are burned, releasing toxic pollution.

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The rest gets collected for recycling.

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I was curious about where the plastic bottles that I put in recycling bins go.

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I found out that shiploads were being sent to India.

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So, I went there.

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I’ll never forget,

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riding over a hill outside Madras where I came face to face

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with a mountain of plastic bottles from California.

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Real recycling would turn these bottles back into bottles.

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But that wasn’t what was happening here.

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Instead these bottles were slated to be downcycled,

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which means turning them into lower quality products that would just be chucked later.

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The parts that couldn’t be downcycled were thrown away there;

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shipped all the way to India just to be dumped in someone else’s backyard.

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If bottled water companies want to use mountains on their labels,

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it’d be more accurate to show one of those mountains of plastic waste.

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Scaring us, seducing us, and misleading us...

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these strategies are all core parts of manufacturing demand.

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Once they’ve manufactured all this demand, creating a new multibillion dollar market,

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they defend it by beating out the competition.

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But in this case,

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the competition is our basic human right to clean, safe drinking water.

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Pepsi’s Vice Chairman publicly said

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“the biggest enemy is tap water!”

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They want us to think it’s dirty

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and bottled water is the best alternative.

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In many places, public water is polluted thanks to polluting industries like

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the plastic bottle industry!

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And these bottled water guys are all too happy to offer their expensive solution

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which keeps us hooked on their product.

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It’s time we took back the tap.

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That starts with making a personal commitment to not buy or drink bottled water

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unless the water in your community is truly unhealthy.

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Yes, it takes a bit of foresight to grab a reusable bottle on the way out,

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but I think we can handle it.

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Then take the next step:

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join a campaign that’s working for real solutions.

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Like demanding investment in clean tap water for all.

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In the US, tap water is underfunded by $24 billion

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partly because people believe drinking water only comes from a bottle!

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Around the world, a billion people don’t have access to clean water right now.

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Yet cities all over are spending millions of dollars

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to deal with all the plastic bottles we throw out.

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What if we spent that money improving our water systems

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or better yet, preventing pollution to begin with?

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There are many more things we can do to solve this problem.

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Lobby your city officials to bring back drinking fountains.

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Work to ban the purchase of bottled water by your school, organization or entire city.

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This is a huge opportunity for millions of people to wake up

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and protect our wallets, our health and the planet.

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The good news is: it’s already started.

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Bottled water sales have begun to drop

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while business is booming for safe refillable water bottles.

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Yay!

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Restaurants are proudly serving “tap”

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and people are choosing to pocket the hundred or thousands of dollars

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they would otherwise be wasting on bottled water.

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Carrying bottled water is on its way to being as cool as smoking while pregnant.

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We know better now.

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The bottled water industry is getting worried because the jig is up.

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We’re not buying into their manufactured demand anymore.

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We’ll choose our own demands, thank you very much,

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and we’re demanding clean safe water for all.