Oith unprecedented hot weather and the possibility of widespread drought highlighting the climate crisis, this summer has also been marked by a concomitant interest in refillable water bottles. Right now, size matters – the bigger and more motivating your bottle, the better.
In 2021, the global reusable water bottle market size was valued at USD 8.64 billion, which is expected to increase by 4.3% from 2022.
A number of factors are at play, including a return to work coupled with increased concern over plastic pollution and its potential to leach into water and food. Research shows that 75% of adults in the UK are concerned about the impact of climate change on the environment.
Among the 2022 success stories is Hydroflask, a brand-focused Gen Z favourite, whose 1.8-liter stainless steel bottles have helped boost sales by 19% since last year. Top-selling “gorpcore brand” Nalgene, whose 909ml bottles are made from BPA-free plastic, is widely considered the bag for life of reusable bottles. Although the company was unable to disclose sales figures, Elissa McGee, chief executive of Nalgene, said it has seen “persistent demand since the pandemic as daily routines and travel return to more conventional”.
The Hydrojug, another unbreakable BPA-free mug that comes with a neoprene sleeve, has people carrying 2 liters of water and rose to fame after appearing on Big Timber, a Netflix reality series about a backyard at Canadian wood. By comparison, the small 1.1-litre stainless steel Adventure Quencher travel tumbler, made by venerable American camping gear brand Stanley, is a regular seller in the US (it reportedly has a waiting list of 135,000 people).
But despite renewed interest in alternative materials such as stainless steel, global plastic use is expected to increase by almost 4% from this year. This also extends to the current vogue for the so-called “oversized, time-stamped water bottle”.
Made by companies such as QuiFit, Hydromate and Elvira, and first used by Khloé Kardashian and Chrissy Teigen, these carafes hold up to 2 liters of water and have mindful affirmations scribbled on the side to encourage you to to drink. Combined with a rise in drinking apps, which monitor your drinking and chastise you when you miss the target, plus reusable but expensive ‘smart bottles’ which charge you £180 to keep your tea warm (as endorsed by Rishi Sunak ), these rainbow-colored bottles have turned hydration into a competitive sport.
City to Sea, a Bristol-based non-profit that campaigns to prevent marine plastic pollution at source, has overseen the placement of 35,000 refillable water stations at train stations, airports and beaches this year. an increase of 10,000 compared to 2019.
Founder Natalie Fee thinks the surge in huge refillable bottles has as much to do with the recession as it does with the climate. “Despite an obvious decline during the pandemic [we have since seen] a huge increase in heatwave awareness – from a health and hydration perspective, [but also] of a cost of living. Fee says the tall bottles “are a little weird but I can see why that’s happening.”
In recent years, the status water bottle – stainless steel, BPA-free plastic, or made from partially recycled materials and rendered in candy-colored hues – has become the go-to sign of eco credentials among young people. Keen to capitalize on the green pound, high-end brands have followed suit – Prada’s £75 milk urn remains one of the most popular reusable water containers on the market. Simply put, “the message is that if you’re carrying a reusable bottle, you care,” says Nina Schrank, Plastics Campaigner at Greenpeace. “It helps if they look good, aesthetically. People will be more inclined to carry them.
While the shift from single-use bottles to reusable plastic bottles is still happening, Schrank worries that plastic remains the dominant bottle material. The health effects of BPA-free plastic, widely used in refillable water bottles, remain a matter of debate on both physical health and the environment.
“Reusable stainless steel bottles are the best material, and although they are becoming more common, they are not yet replacing plastic bottles,” she adds, agreeing that cost is also a factor – plastic will always be cheaper than Prada. “What we want is for plastic bottles to become a bit of a taboo – like smoking.”