Sustainability, Gender, and Juul Culture at UNH

Hydroflask, the water bottle company which brands itself as “saving the world from ‘lukewarm’ and protecting the environment while they do it” has reached a new status in the past few months, particularly because of the trend and meme “VSCO girls”, popularized by social media platforms like Tiktok and Instagram. Toting Hydroflasks, scrunchies, and reusable straws (save the turtles sksksksk); this wide-sweeping trend also satirically promotes the implementation of sustainability amongst young people.

Much like its given pronoun, sustainability seems to be popular amongst VSCO girls, rather than VSCO people. As it is represented in the media, the target audience for these products and the meme seems to be women. Does recycling make you gay? No, it doesn’t. But when was the last time you saw a straight dude talking with his bros about the importance of pro-environmental behavior?

Female engagement in pro-environmental behavior isn’t a new phenomenon, with most participants of one study indicating they associate pro-environmental and sustainable behavior with femininity. Even after taking a look at Hydroflask’s website, most of the colors they sell in popular models are bright hues and soft pastels, clearly expecting that those interested in purchasing their products would be a feminine audience. On the flip side of the spectrum, most forms of media equate meat with manliness. An unfortunate reality is that farming and meat production are a leading cause of the rapidly deteriorating state of our planet.

So why can’t going vegetarian or even vegan be considered manly? In a forthcoming documentary “The Game Changers”, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a largely held representation of “manliness”, as well as other successful male athletes talk about the realities and benefits of operating on a plant-based diet. Schwarzenegger challenges the idea that a diet including meat is necessary for success in sports and achieving the “ideal” male physique.

The Juul, as well as other nicotine and vaping products, have proven to hold a special place in the hearts of college kids, offering a quick nic fix in an easily accessible and portable manner. Even amongst the blowback that Juul products have been getting in the media lately related to health concerns and cancer links, addiction proves to be… well, addiction, and owning a Juul is a cultural norm. If I had a dollar for every Juul I saw while walking around campus, I’d be able to pay off all of my UNH parking tickets. In my own personal experience and in the experience of those around me who I’ve spoken with, I didn’t completely understand what I was getting into when I first hit a Juul. I went from telling myself I’d never try it to being that person that says, “... can I rip your Juul???” when I see one at a party.

Though Juul and Hydroflask are both so influential amongst young people and are popular on places like UNH’s campus, these products fundamentally contradict each other. Apart from the health risks associated with Juuling, there’s a major factor that goes overlooked by most: the environmental impact. What’s problematic about the Juul is partly due to its use of lithium-ion batteries, which much like other electronics, need to be disposed of in the proper facilities in order to limit the environmental consequences that come with devices that use strong corrosive chemicals. Yet despite the dichotomy of Hydroflask’s mission to promote sustainability and the lack of concern on the part of Juul technologies, they are both staples of UNH culture, as well as that of other schools.

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