Throughout this environmental analysis, I’ve developed mixed feelings on Hydroflask. Hydroflask’s platform is based on the outdoors and adventure, and their website has pages and pages of outdoor landscapes and artsy photos. However, Hydroflask also has pages on their community and environmental involvement. Their “Parks for All” program raises money for nonprofits who support the National Parks by maintaining, rebuilding, and restoring the land and ecosystems there. Hydroflask has also released a line of “#refillforgood” water bottles, which, with the purchase of one of these bottles, donates $100,000 to the Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization that helps protect the world’s oceans. The transition from plastic and single-use water bottles reduces waste and carbon emissions. Although the Hydroflask bottle itself is not very sustainable, the long lifetime of the stainless steel bottles makes Hydroflask a good sustainable investment (as long as you don’t lose it immediately). I think many of the sustainability and transparency issues are because of Hydroflask’s manufacturer, LaiKoe. The lack of information about LaiKoe’s raw material sourcing and labor methods is definitely counterproductive to Hydroflask’s progress towards sustainability.
Hydroflasks are made of 4 basic components, the stainless steel bottle body, the plastic cap, the silicone seal gasket, and the powder coating, which gives each bottle its customizable color. Hydroflask uses 18/8 stainless steel (the 18 stands for the percentage of chromium and the 8 represents the percentage of nickel in the steel), which is a high quality and durable material that has self-repairing properties and is temperature resistant. The stainless steel used in the Hydroflask is compliant with California Prop 65 regulations and Title 21 of the FDA Code of Federal Regulations, Non-Toxic, BPA-Free, Reusable, Eco-Friendly. 18/8 stainless steel is also 100% recyclable and has a long life cycle, which makes it extremely sustainable compared to plastic or single-use water bottles. The plastic cap is made out of polypropylene plastic resin (#5 plastic), which can be recycled and reused safely. Polypropylene has a high heat tolerance, and is therefore seen in a lot of food packaging and microwave-safe containers (please don’t microwave your hydro flask). The plastic used for the cap also passes BPA and Phthalate regulations. Along with the cap, there is a small silicone piece that seals the cap to the bottle. This piece is made of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), a ductile and food safe silicone material that is formed in a loop to help further insulate the bottle. The powder coating, which gives each hydro flask its color and texture, is a flour-like substance made of polymer resin combined with pigments, curative, flow modifiers, and leveling agents. The powder coating contains no solvents, which means that the coat emits no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), which can increase air pollution. The powder coat also has little to no waste because any mixture that is not on the bottle itself, can be reused to coat another bottle.
The manufacturing of hydro-flasks, especially their stainless steel components, is energy-intensive. Stainless steel fabrication consists of 7 steps: melting, casting, hot rolling, heat treatment and air-hardening, cleaning, cutting, and secondary processing. The melting process is the most energy-intensive, as it requires 8-12 hours of heating via an electric furnace. These processes are all industrialized due to the large demand for insulated beverage containers worldwide. The secondary processing allows the steel to bind to the powder coating. The ingredients of the coating are first combined, cooled, and ground into powder. Then, a process called electrostatic spray deposition (ESD), is used to apply an electrostatic charge to the powder, allowing it to bind to the metal bottle. The bottle is then cured in an oven where, with the addition of heat, the powder coating chemically reacts to make it permanent and durable. Polypropylene, the material used for hydro flask lids, is made, first by the distillation of hydrocarbon fuels, then by polymerization, which uses catalysts to produce plastics. The silicone-like loop is manufactured by injection molding, which is where you form thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) “pellets” that are melted then injected into a mold under high pressure. This allows the TPE to set and form a shape. The different components of the bottle are then assembled so they can be distributed.
Although there are stainless steel manufacturing facilities in the United States, Hydroflask water bottles are made completely in China. LaiKoe, a company based in YongKang China (aka “Vacuum Flask Capital”), manufactures and processes hydro-flasks, then ships them to the United States. I could not find anything about where LaiKoe extracts raw materials from on their website, no matter how hard I looked. LaiKoe also does not mention whether they source the materials themselves. This lack of information leads me to doubt the ethics of LaiKoe during the manufacturing process, possibly using child labor and/or unsustainable methods. By supporting and partnering with a company like LaiKoe, Hydroflask is enabling misinformation and lack of transparency.