Whether you’re walking to class, working out at the gym, or scrolling through Tik Tok, it’s almost impossible not to spot a brightly-colored Hydro Flask. Proud Hydro Flask owners deck them out with stickers and wristbands, treating every bump, nick, or scratch as part of their bottle’s character development. While Hydro Flasks carry lots of personality (and water), they’re also a major player in the shift away from single-use plastics. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. The plastics that pollute water bodies aren’t solely a concern for marine life; 83% of drinking water samples from around the world are contaminated with microplastics. A recent World Wildlife Fund study determined that humans consume a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. Considering these mind-blowing statistics, I respect Hydro Flask for making it trendy to carry around a reusable water bottle. However, I’m afraid that the booming popularity of the brand has cast a shadow on its overseas labor sourcing, environmentally damaging steel production, and lack of transparency.
The Hydro Flask 32 oz water bottle is made out of 18/8 pro-grade stainless steel. So, what exactly do all those numbers mean? 18/8 refers to the composition of the stainless steel, more specifically, the amount of chromium and nickel in the product. Therefore, 18/8 stainless steel contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. 18/8 stainless steel also contains no more than 0.8% carbon and at least 50% iron. Hydro Flask states that if one person makes the switch to a reusable water bottle, approximately 217 plastic water bottles are spared from entering a landfill each year. While this statistic may position Hydro Flasks as the obvious eco-conscious choice, stainless steel is no angel by any means. According to McKinsey & Company, every ton of steel produced in 2018 emitted an average of 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide, equating to about 8 percent of global CO2 emissions. Stainless steel production is also incredibly water-intensive, using 75,000 gallons of water throughout the entire process per ton of steel. On the bright side, stainless steel is North America’s highest recycled material, containing an average of 60% recycled steel. Along with the bottle itself, the plastic lid is also recyclable and BPA-free, a chemical often found in plastic that can cause developmental, reproductive, and cell repair issues. In 2013, Hydro Flask made an admirable stride towards a toxic-free material list. Hydro Flask’s thirteenth employee Alix Stuart writes, “But as we explored how to improve our production, we learned there was a toxic step in the process that sealed the vacuum wall to the bottle, and it left a trace amount of lead on the bottom of bottles. That was legally safe, as it didn't touch the contents of the bottle, but it bugged us knowing it was there and it was a bad thing for the employees of our manufacturer in China.” In the first 12 months of the production redesign, Hydro Flask spent $1 million in extra costs to produce bottles, lost $2 to $3 million in sales, and were out of stock on some items for months. However, the company persevered through this struggle and ended up creating an innovative proprietary sealant, TempShield. Despite the environmental impact of steel production, I admire Hydro Flask’s commitment to producing the safest products, for employees and customers alike.
Hydro Flasks are manufactured by Ecoway Houseware Ltd, located in the Guangdong District of China. Along with Hydro Flasks, Ecoway Houseware produces a number of other company’s stainless steel products. Overseas manufacturing comes as no surprise since China is the world's largest stainless steel producing country. While steel production overseas is the norm, it would have been nice to see Hydro Flask produce its water bottles in the U.S. to cut back on transportation energy and emissions. Ecoway Houseware uses a mix of both domestic supply and imported raw materials to produce Hydro Flasks. In the Guangdong District, the manufacturing industry is powered predominantly from fossil fuels such as Coal (65.5%) and Natural gas (3.1%), with a surprisingly large contribution of hydroelectric power (19%). As mentioned before, the manufacturing process consumes a significant amount of electricity, predominantly to weld the steel, create the vacuum, conduct electrolysis for corrosion prevention, polish and paint the bottles, and mold the plastic and packaging. Producing a 300-gram stainless steel bottle requires seven times as much fossil fuel and demands the extraction of hundreds of times more metal resources than making a 32-gram plastic bottle. However, a reusable stainless steel bottle is much better for the environment with consistent use and eliminates the need for single-use plastic. One aspect that frustrated me in my search was the lack of information regarding Ecoway Houseware’s labor practices. Without proof of fair labor practices, a consumer is unable to make a guilt-free purchase with Hydro Flask.
Hydro Flask was founded in 2009 by Travis Rosbach and Cindy Morse, a couple frustrated that no water bottle could keep their beverages cold under the harsh sun of Hawaii. Rosbach and Morse spent several months coming up with an insulated water bottle and even held an estate sale to fund their first 1,500 bottles. The couple then moved into Rosbach’s mother’s house in Bend, Oregon and started selling their Hydro Flasks at farmers markets, fairs, and concerts. After a few ups and downs — including a divorce— the two founders sold the company to a group of investors in 2012 and welcomed Scott Allan as CEO. Hydro Flask was then acquired by the global consumer products company Helen of Troy in 2016 for $210 million dollars. I never would've known of this acquisition unless I sought out other sources beyond the company’s website. While Helen of Troy has no apparent scandals or misjudgment incidents, I think it’s only right to be fully transparent about the ownership of a company. Hydro Flask’s silence about this acquisition is the equivalent of taking someone back to your place without disclosing that you live with your parents. Is living at your parent’s a sin? No. But should you probably give your guest a heads up? Yeah, you probably should. Regarding the company’s CSR efforts, Hydro Flask states, “We're the most proud of Parks For All — a charitable program we created to benefit public green spaces and promote happier, healthier lives outdoors for all. To date, we’ve been able to support more than 122 nonprofits and donate over $1.9 million and counting!” This is a great initiative that is very interconnected with Hydroflask’s mission and values. However, considering Helen of Troy’s 2020 net sales revenue for its houseware segment, comprising Hydro Flask and OxO, was $641 million, $1.9 million is a relatively small contribution. Nevertheless, I commend Hydro Flask’s philanthropic efforts towards a number of reputable nonprofits.