As some consumers ditch Stanley cups, experts weigh overconsumption risks
Every product has an "environmental payback period," one expert noted.
The widely popular Stanley Cups are flying off store shelves and can be seen quenching influencers' thirsts in videos online, however, these reusable cups may actually pose some sustainability concerns, experts told ABC News.
Several experts told ABC News that the transience of reusable cup and water bottle trends can promote overconsumption of these products and become counterproductive when weighed against the goal of supporting sustainability.
While experts agree that reusable products are a positive option for consumers hoping to make a more sustainable choice, many are saying companies encouraging people to buy unnecessary multiples of them is problematic.
Sandra Goldmark, circularity expert from Barnard College and the Columbia University Climate School, told ABC News that each of these products has an "environmental payback period," and customers need to "really understand why it's so unsustainable to buy multiple, durable items, and treat them more like a fast fashion item."
"This [cup craze] is really kind of a funny intersection of something that can be green and more sustainable, i.e. a reusable product, but a marketing and fashion moment that is really, truly unsustainable, and it's an unfortunate intersection," Goldmark said.
Circularity experts, like Goldmark, look at economic models that focus on extending the life cycle of products through methods like reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling.
Stanley was originally founded in 1913 with the goal of providing reusable "built for life" products to their customers.
"This mission of sustainability is a core value for Stanley and we prioritize use of recycled materials in our products, eliminating the need for single-use plastics and increasing recycled content every year," a spokesperson for Stanley told ABC News. "We plan to continue to introduce more sustainable products through responsible design. We approach sustainability with the same spirit of innovation and originality that we approach our products."
But, in recent years the company found viral popularity on apps such as TikTok, with influencers posting videos showing off their extensive collections and limited-edition designs.
Erica Cirino, communications manager for Plastics Pollution Coalition and author of "Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis," told ABC news that marketing hype has created a feeling of "artificial scarcity" around these products.
"Companies make 'limited-edition' special versions to create insane hype around their products, and sadly, it works," Cirino said. "Companies selling reusable products need to step away from these tactics and instead help foster values that reduce wastefulness; for example, showing people how to properly care for their reusables, so folks do not feel compelled to repeatedly buy more."
Goldmark notes that this specific trendy cup is not the only one. Other brands, such as Yeti and Hydroflask, have also developed devoted followings in recent years.
"A double-walled steel cup is a great thing, and it can last a lifetime, but it's also more energy and material intensive to make in the first place," Goldmark said. "So there's something called an environmental payback period for any product."
"If you want to compare a reusable coffee mug to, let's say, a single-use paper cup -- you have to use that steel cup for a long time, many months, maybe even many years, depending on how it was made in the first place, to earn back that investment of energy and materials," she explained.
And some are examining how Stanley makes its cups after several TikTok videos surfaced recently showing people testing their cups for lead. The company said "no lead is present on the surface of any Stanley product."
“Our manufacturing process currently employs the use of an industry standard pellet to seal the vacuum insulation at the base of our products; the sealing material includes some lead,” Stanley notes on its website. “Once sealed, this area is covered with a durable stainless steel layer, making it inaccessible to consumers.”
If the cap at the base of a cup comes off and exposes the pellet, the company continues, customers can submit a warranty claim on their website.
The FDA is "aware of the situation," regarding reports of lead in Stanley cups, a spokesperson told ABC News.
"The agency has not received reports of lead poisoning concerning [Stanley] cups at this time. It is the responsibility of companies that manufacture products intended for use in contact with foods sold in the U.S., to comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the FDA’s regulations," the spokesperson said. "As a general precaution, consumers should avoid drinking from broken or damaged cups."
Stanley also says “its products meet all US regulatory requirements” and that it “tests for and validates compliance on all products through FDA accredited 3rd party labs”
While Stanley says the lead used in the manufacturing process doesn't pose a health risk, some TikTokers have been posting videos throwing their cups away since questions about lead have been raised, and encouraging followers to as well.
Some companies do have end-of-life plans for their products, if for whatever reason consumers decide they're done using them.
ABC News asked Stanley whether the company has an end-of-life plan for their products and has not yet received a response.
Also, stainless steel is recyclable, though often not at the curbside, Cirino said. Alternative solutions, she suggested, could be to repurpose your reusable cups and bottles, or donate them.
As for the cup crazes, Goldmark says it's not realistic to think people will never get excited about a product like this and rush out to buy it.
"But I do think there's a way to do this more sustainably, both from the point of view of the of the person who's tempted by the viral craze and by the company," Goldmark said. "More importantly by the company that's making it by leaning into reuse and repair and refurbishment and fun detailing and upcycling of these items."
For consumers out on the market for a new reusable cup, Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics -- an environmental advocacy group focused on ending plastic pollution -- told ABC News that people should look for "a durable metal container that has the least amount of plastic possible."
"A much better choice than trying to collect trendy water bottles, is one, simple, 100% stainless steel, glass or unglazed earthen clay bottles that you can use over and over again -- with no exposure to microplastics," Cirino said. "Consumers do need to be aware of corporate marketing tactics, and dig deep into their own values and mindsets. Before you buy a trendy new product, ask yourself, will you really use it?"
"It's not cool to be wasteful," she added.
ABC News Live
24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events