March 8, 2024

How many water bottles is too many? The state of overconsumption in America

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March 20, 2010. Plastic pollution on the beach in Bonaire.

Picture by: Donal Boyle

Overconsumption is still a trend in America despite its environmental consequences.

Young adults and teenagers are at the peak of this recurring phenomenon, where fear of missing out (or FOMO) is one of the most widely used marketing strategies according to Forbes.

People in the United States buy goods at a higher scale than other developed countries. Its residents consume “one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23% of the coal, 27% of the aluminum, and 19% of the copper,” Dave Tilford, a researcher for Sierra Club, said to Scientific American.

According to the 2024 edition of the Global Resources Outlook, “without urgent and concerted action, by 2060 resource extraction could rise by 60% from 2020 levels – driving increasing damage and risks.” This largely stems from the rise of consumption levels around the world.

One such example is the water bottle industry. Someone that owns a reusable water bottle needs to drink from it many times to become more environmentally sustainable than plastic bottles, as it emits 14 times more greenhouse gasses during production according to Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris for The New York Times.

However, everyone owns a reusable water bottle, and some people may even have more than one.

One company in particular has recently capitalized over this market: Stanley, who has been around since 1913.

Recently, they saw an astronomical increase in sales due to their Quencher H2.0 line of water bottles. Stanley prioritizes blue collar workers, with their products mainly found in hardware stores. Now, under the marketing leadership of Terence Reilly, the company is appealing to a new market of consumers: women and girls.

Stanley put a variety of eye-catching colors, a handle and a straw to their water bottles; it broke into the mainstream market almost overnight. On TikTok, #StanleyCups has over 8.2 billion views and over 600,000 posts contributing to the craze over this water bottle.

Now there are limited drops of different colors, as well as collaborations with huge names such as Starbucks, and in particular, the pink valentines version sold in Target has seen aftermarket prices of up to $400.

As an economics teacher at the Taft School, Brianne Foley, had a lot to say about the state of overconsumption in America as well. She noted that trends such as the Stanley water bottles “are so fast and infiltrate society so quickly” and are constantly coming in and out.

Tracking the modern popularity of water bottles, it began with the Swell water bottles, which everyone had, but then as the teens grew out of it and adults started to use it, it transitioned into Hydroflasks and then Yeti, and now into Stanleys.

For Foley the root cause of these behaviors still remains the same: the fear of missing out. She had begun to realize that the overconsumption had even reached her daughters in middle school, who have a Stanley, but were teased for having the wrong color.

“Younger people are considerably more at risk due to the increased amount of time spent online coupled with a heightened sensitivity to and need for social approval and belongingness,” Natalie Christine Dattilo, Ph.D, the founder of Priority Wellness Group and an instructor of psychology at Harvard, said to Forbes.

With the pace at which social media moves nowadays, it’s impossible to predict what will be the next big thing, but according to some TikTok influencers Owala water bottles seem to be rising in popularity online.

Written by:

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Christian Yeung

Society editor

Hong Kong | United States

Born in 2006 in Hong Kong, Christian Yeung studies at the Taft School in the US. His academic interests are in History and English, especially in literature.

His hobbies include playing squash, the violin, and the drums, as well as cooking.  He also enjoys writing stories and articles, as well as participating in community service both in and out of school.

He speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.

Edited by:

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Sofiya Tkachenko

former Editor-in-chief

Kyiv, Ukraine | Vienna, Austria

economics