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Thirst Trap: The Sustainable Water Bottle Paradox

Trendy Water Bottles Contradict the Entire Point of their Sustainability


By Sophia Blair


Photo By Amanda Hess

Trends have existed as long as culture has, influencing commercial markets for decades. American culture has epitomized capitalism by promoting a culture of constant consumption. In the U.S., fast fashion is rampant, and new trends emerge on a daily basis, propelled by instantaneous communication and trend-setting through social media.


Our “trend culture” has evolved to a point beyond fashion: now, objects go viral and take turns in the spotlight. From popular stuffed animal brands like Squishmallow and Jellycat, to kitchen appliances like Le Cruset, social media grants any brand the ability to create a memorable identity and gain exposure to new markets.


Americans love things. This collectively embraced materialistic mindset eliminates the mundanity of everyday products by allowing anything, however ordinary, to gain widespread attention. One of the most simple, yet most popular, examples of this phenomenon is reusable water bottles. 


I initially fell into the water bottle hype in middle school, when everyone’s backpack pocket boasted a S’well water bottle. The variation of colors and patterns gave each tween the opportunity to express their identity, and the bottles kept water cold all day — a true hallmark of a good water bottle. 


That was until Hydro Flask took center stage. Suddenly, everybody had a “hydro.” Hydro Flasks became an everyday staple, also acting as an extension of one’s identity, but taking it a step further with accessories such as straps to carry the bottles and boots to cushion them from indentation.


My Hydro Flask came with me everywhere, adorned with stickers that served as conversation starters and souvenirs from my lived experiences. Hydro Flask reigned supreme for a long time, acting as a primary contributor to the 2019 “VSCO girl” trend and becoming such a renowned brand that people even dressed as the bottles for Halloween. 


As Generation Z fades out of the youth demographic, Hydro Flask fades with them. Stanley Cups have become synonymous with Generation Alpha, or those born from the late 2010s to the mid-to-late 2020s. Stanley Cups have sparked such an obsessive craze that elementary school children have been bullied for not having one, and full-fledged adults chaotically stampede department stores to acquire them. Stanley sells more than a water bottle: they sell a status symbol.


Recently, a new brand called “Owala” has emerged, standing out in the water bottle sphere with its exclusive “color drops.” The fleeting nature of these limited edition water bottles differentiates Owala from other brands, inducing a feeling of exclusivity and fear of missing out for consumers. People in the Owala “fandom,” as surveyed from TikTok and Reddit, love to collect these limited edition bottles. The unique colorways and ability to switch lids and cups leave room for endless combinations and drops usually sell out in mere minutes. The brand even has “collections,” encouraging consumers to collect the different styles of bottles. 


Discussions about having a “comfort water bottle” have circulated online — water bottles are no longer just water bottles. Apps like TikTok have made these seemingly random trends possible.


In a Pew Research Center interview, Alexander Cho, a digital media anthropologist and postdoctoral scholar expert in youth and social media at the University of California, Irvine, explains, “What we are seeing is that ‘digital’ acts as a magnifier, accelerator, and exacerbator of historical conduits of power that may have not been as obvious to folks before.” 


Our approach to glorifying reusable water bottles is utterly ironic. The entire purpose of these water bottles is to last a lifetime and mitigate unnecessary overconsumption. Yet, our society is so deeply steeped in consumerism that both brands and consumers feed into the narrative that people need more and people need new.


The paradox between the intended purpose of these products and how consumers collect them, eagerly await new drops, and buy new brands as soon as they grow popular, raises the question of where the balance lies between our culture of consumption and our concern for sustainable practices: at what point does overconsumption and materialism overshadow our environmental consciousness? 

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