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Is it Time to Drop the Water Bottle Trends?

Updated: Feb 17


This past Christmas, many of you may have received a brand-new Stanley Cup as a present. It seems as though every single girl in the country has a Stanley Cup. Although the market has come out with plenty of Stanley dupes, the brand name holds weight. After all, who wants to be the girl with an off-brand water bottle?


A few years back, there was the craze over Hydroflasks. How could you possibly call yourself sustainable if you didn’t have a Hydro Flask? Every few years, water bottle trends emerge, and many trendsetting individuals will dispose of their old water bottles in favor of the new trendy ones. In this blog, we’ll examine the negative environmental impacts of water bottle trends.


 

The Timeline


From the time of their creation in the 1960s to approximately 15 years ago, reusable water bottles were perceived as only for hikers and outdoorsy people. In the present, reusable water bottles have become a status symbol and something of a novelty. Many people will drop hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, to collect these reusable water bottles and display them as a personal collection. Water bottles have become so popular that some luxury companies have even designed the ultimate water bottle status symbol of bejeweled water bottles. In a collaboration between S’well and Swarovski, you can purchase a water bottle covered in 6,000 crystals for four figures, or the more affordable option of a bejeweled water bottle top for $150.


According to the WGSN archives, this craze over reusable water bottles notably began in 2011 with the Bobble water bottles. These colorful, clear plastic water bottles sported a filtration system in the drinking nozzle. Bobble water bottles, a few years after their creation in 2010, became the must-have water bottle of the early 2010s. They were carried in a variety of stores including American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath & Beyond, and their very own store in Soho, New York.


Following this craze over Bobble water bottles, metal water bottles were popularized as a better option due to their ability to insulate liquids. Although metal water bottles have been around since 1896, they were not considered popular or mainstream until the 2000s. Outdoorsy people were sold on the idea of a water bottle that could keep their water cold for hours rather than heating up in the sun through plastic. As an added benefit, metal water bottles don’t leak BPA or other plastic-specific chemicals into water. These metal water bottles became the standard for water bottles, causing a cultural shift from emphasis on reusable plastic water bottles to reusable metal water bottles. The most popular brands offering metal water bottles in the 2010s were S’well and Camelbak.


S’well water bottles remained as the must-have water bottle of the 2000s until the VSCO girl era of Hydroflasks. Hydroflasks had been around since 2009, however, they did not become mainstream until 2019–2022 due to social media, notably VSCO. VSCO, seen as an alternative to Instagram without the numbers to track interactions between users and others’ photos, popularized Hydroflasks. They became a crucial part of the VSCO girl identity to be environmentally conscious and “save the turtles.” As an environmentally friendly brand, Hydroflasks became integrated into the social identity of VSCO girls and notably became popular as VSCO girls became popular on social media. Though VSCO girls were seen as a meme by many, their popularity nonetheless made the Hydroflask the usurper of the long-reigned S’well water bottles.


In the most recent trend, Stanley Cups have emerged as the must-have water “bottle” of 2024. Though not exactly a traditional water bottle due to its tumbler shape, Stanley Cups have nonetheless been extremely popular among teenage girls and adults alike. These cups have incredible insulation, an aesthetic appearance, and hold a large amount of water or other liquid compared to other water bottles on the market. Despite some controversy over spiders getting stuck in the straws, and the cups leaking when knocked over, many people continue to purchase the Stanley Cup because it is on trend.


Negative Environmental Consequences


It is a known fact that reusable water bottles are much better for the environment compared to the disposable plastic bottles that are thrown into the ocean contributing to garbage patches, leaking BPA into the waters, and endangering fish and other ocean organisms. However, the consumer craze from the trends surrounding them has made them less environmentally friendly.


As any consumer in a materialistic country, many of us own multiple water bottles. We may not use all these water bottles, but we own them nonetheless. When a water bottle becomes increasingly old and worn down, what do you do? Many may choose to recycle these plastic water bottles, and this may be a better option for the environment if you can look past the disadvantages of trying to recycle mass amounts of plastic such as the inability to remove toxins from the plastic and the costly procedures for little amounts of plastic recycling.


However, instead of recycling, many choose to simply throw out an old water bottle. For those claiming they would never simply throw out a water bottle, have you ever been to a job fair or college fair? When attending booths, you’ve likely been given a plastic nipple-top water bottle with the booth’s advertisement on it. These water bottles, while fun at the moment, are rarely used. Quite often, these water bottles are thrown in the trash and are not even seen as “real” water bottles.


The point is, with how many water bottles each consumer owns, and the increasingly sped-up need to purchase new water bottles every few years, more and more reusable water bottles are ending up in the trash. These water bottles are built to be sturdy due to their intent to last many years, contributing to the issue that they will likely take thousands of years to decompose. Stainless steel, the material many metal water bottles are made of, takes 1,000 years to decompose.


What can we do?


Though this issue is not at the forefront of pollution, the issue of increasing consumer demand for water bottles is one contributing factor to pollution. There is not much to be said about water bottles, as we cannot stop companies from producing water bottles, nor can we stop social media from pushing the idea that you cannot be cool without the right status symbol water bottle. Already, children as young as elementary school age are being bullied for having a “knock-off Stanley” and having the “wrong” kind of water bottle.


In our homes, what we can do is not purchase more trendy water bottles. A single water bottle is built to last many years and should therefore be used for many years. Although owning only one water bottle is environmentally friendly, don’t throw out old water bottles and choose to reuse them in some way. There are plenty of tutorials online on how to repurpose old water bottles.


For the social media issue of pushing water bottles as a status symbol, those with a platform can attempt to “de-influence” people from the idea that they need the latest water bottle. Stanley Cups have been around for 1–2 years at most and they are already having to compete with the growing popularity of Owala water bottles that sport a straw and a gulp mouthpiece. Although Owala water bottles have yet to beat out the ever-popular Stanley Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised if Owala overtook the Stanley in years to come in the fastest water bottle trend cycle ever.


Recap

Reusable water bottles have been around since the 1960s, but did not become a status symbol until the 2010s with the emergence of the Bobble water bottle. Trends in water bottle popularity preceding 2010 existed, but there was not a consumer craze surrounding them. These trends lasted approximately a decade each in the past, but have increasingly been cycled through at faster paces. Trends now last typically around 3–6 years. As people collect water bottles and ultimately discard them after the trend finishes, pollution from water bottles increases. These water bottles take thousands of years to decompose because they were built to last. To prevent water bottle pollution, we should not buy water bottles just for the sake of following trends, and reuse old water bottles rather than throwing them out.


Stay updated and active by following the Environmental Defense Initiative on Medium and our social media platforms!



 




Author: Karen Wong


Editor: Charlotte Wang

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