Reusable water bottles and their infrastructure?

Every day, I carry around my Nalgene water bottle. The design on the bottle highlights the following aspects of the water bottle: “bpa free”, “made in the USA”, and the “Nalgene” logo. Each of these elements refer to its own network that contributes to the rhetoric of reusable water bottles in Western and environmental cultures.

Reusable water bottles are seen as an alternative to wasteful plastic one-time-use bottles that contribute to issues concerning landfills and ocean debris. Reusable water bottles are thus seen as a way to decrease the harmful effects that are so prominent in the infrastructure surrounding unsustainable plastic water bottles.

“bpa free” relates to controversy regarding the chemical Bisphenol A (bpa) as having harmful medical effects. The subject is up to debate however, and scientific studies have proven to be contradictory. International food and safety agencies also differ in implementation of laws regarding bpa, further complicating whether it is safe to use or not. Despite this, many agencies continue to perpetuate the rhetoric regarding the harmful effects of BPA, which has led many companies to stop using the chemical in plastic, decreasing its popularity in plastic products. Nalgene made the decision to make their water bottles bpa free in 2008. By advertising its water bottles as bpa-free, Nalgene contributes to this rhetoric, and also alludes to itself as a safer water bottle to use, over other ‘lower-quality’ (and thus lower in price) water bottle brands.

“Made in the USA” feeds in to the negative connotations regarding low-quality products that are imported from countries that are known as providing low wages for workers, bad working conditions, and low-quality products, as famously characterized by the “Made in China” label. By putting emphasis on its manufacture in the US, it connotes a higher production value, and comforts consumers in thinking that Nalgene workers may work in better conditions.

On a personal note, I am not too attached to the brand, however definitely was attracted to the above-mentioned aspects of the water bottle when I chose to purchase it. Without doing any research, I chose to buy a Nalgene water bottle on the assumption that it was a higher quality product (it also comes with a really awesome warranty). That said, the most influential factor in choosing to buy a water bottle was that I did not want to contribute to the harmful and unsustainable infrastructures surrounding  plastic non-reusable water bottles. Because of this, Nalgene water bottles can be seen as connected to this harmful and larger network, however as having a much smaller contribution to the infrastructure surrounding plastic non-reusable water bottles.

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2 Comments

  1. I think this is an interest take on such a mundane object. I myself have only recently become a reusable bottle user, and somehow it seems to take on a extra limb function. The sustainable practices are extremely attractive, but like you my water bottle wasn’t purchased with the intent to be eco-friendly. Although i like to think of myself as relatively environmentally conscious, plastic is a guilt indulgence that I often overlook. Water bottles are a small change that can have a massive impact.
    In terms of the Made in The U.S.A concerns I find it a little ironic because there seems to be two school of thought that approach this. On the one hand their are those who see quality control and durable products, and other the other hand their are those who see made in the U.SA as problematic (see funny video link below).

    That being said, there is something very political about a reusable water bottle and its overall connotation. Having an the confidence that fresh water is always available is a luxury we rarely consider.

    Liked by 1 person

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