A series of TikTok videos went viral in December, showing Target shoppers aggressively running towards and grabbing Stanley’s newly-released, limited edition “Cosmo Pink” and “Target Red” 40 ounce “Quenchers.” These tumblers have become the newest, in-vogue version of the ongoing transition to reusable drinkware. Marketed as a sustainable way to stay hydrated, the Stanley’s hype has begun to contradict the environmentally-minded premise of purchasing a reusable water bottle: limiting unnecessary consumption.
Although Stanley has been creating drinkware for over 100 years, the company can credit TikTok with its recent rise to fame. In the past few months, these tumblers have become a collector’s item and, according to Business Insider, Stanley’s annual sales rose from $94 million in 2020 to $750 million in 2023. Furthermore, the Quencher was the single most popular gift teens received for Christmas in 2023.
Now, people no longer need just one reusable cup. Many of the viral videos, typically made popular through the algorithmic power of ‘#watertok,’ showcase people showing off their extensive Stanley Cup collection, often consisting of dozens of tumblers. The cups can be purchased online for $45, however, many of the most sought-after models — such as those part of their collaboration with Starbucks — are being resold for prices nearing $300.
The desirability of these tumblers has raised other questions in the name of sustainability, namely: who needs that many water bottles if you can only drink from one at a time? In response to the recent craze, TikTok commenters and environmentalists have begun to question whether this is more of the same for our throw-away society.
“At Stanley, we believe that through invention and originality we create a more sustainable, less disposable life and world,” Stanley’s online statement on sustainability reads. Additionally, it highlights the company’s four principles of sustainability. They offer a “built for life” warranty, they are committed to making at least 50% of their stainless steel products from “recycled materials” by 2025, they are committed to “sustainable packaging” by 2025 and they utilize “values-led manufacturing.”
Still, trend analysts hypothesize that, like every other fad that has come and gone, we are in the height of the Stanley Cup’s popularity and they will inevitably be cast aside for another reusable water container. And when they do, the options for recycling them are limited.
The vast majority of disposed Stanleys are predicted to end up in landfills. According to a New York Times article on green drinkware, “producing that 300-gram stainless steel bottle requires seven times as much fossil fuel, releases 14 times more greenhouse gases, demands the extraction of hundreds of times more metal resources and causes hundreds of times more toxic risk to people and ecosystems than making a 32-gram plastic bottle.”
Between the resources required in production, the carbon footprint associated with distribution, their relatively short life span as a microtrend, and their final disposal, most Stanley cups will not be kept on shelves long enough to see their existence reach the breakeven point when they become more environmentally viable than plastic water bottles. From an environmental point of view — and arguably from a financial one as well — buying another Stanley that will sit in your cupboard as a ‘collector’s item’ is just not worth it.
Still, owning one reusable water bottle — whether it is a Stanley, a Hydro Flask or a YETI — and using it for an extended period (multiple years) has never been the issue; in fact, it is a big part of the solution to our growing plastic crisis. The issue arises when society turns everyday items initially intended to be a more sustainable option into the newest coveted craze in the greater culture of mass consumption.
The most sustainable thing that you can do is to learn to be content with less. One Stanley cup should suffice your hydration needs!
A version of this article appeared on pg. 10 of the Feb. 1, 2024 print edition of the Daily Nexus.