Last week, I was on my way home from a morning meeting when I was met with a sudden urge for an iced coffee. I’d walked that very same stretch of Delancey Street ten times over the course of the winter and I was positively buzzing from excitement that instead of fighting off wind or rain or bitter cold, I was floating down the street in the sunshine, not feeling so much as the whisper of a chill in the air. Dare I say, I actually felt a smidge…warm. (If spring in New York could be bottled up and sold, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to afford it.)
When I spotted a tiny café open, I poked my head in to see if they had glasses for their iced coffee. It’s a habit that’s become second-nature for me since committing to forgo the ubiquitous plastic iced coffee cup, more than six years ago.
Alarmed by the overflowing state of street corner trash bins, and even more alarmed that I typically slurped down my coffee-to-go in only a handful of blocks, I decided to quit, cold turkey. Now, instead of getting my coffee for the road, I often sit down to sip in-house. If the café doesn’t have anything but plastic to pour into, and I don’t have a cup of my own on me, I skip it altogether. No cup, no coffee, the saying goes.
I’m not always perfect. Last summer coconut bubble teas ordered by officemates proved far too tempting to pass up. (More than once.) But while sipping my first, barista-poured iced coffee in that tiny café last week, I decided that this summer it might be fun to forgo plastic more publicly. The United States goes through 500 million straws each day. 500 million. They’re not recyclable. They end up in our oceans. They don’t biodegrade. It’s a problem that we can solve by shifting our habits.
Last week, when I sat down to drink my iced coffee I was ready to continue my walk to the subway five minutes later and I was left with only a glass of melting ice cubes but nothing at all to throw in the garbage. It felt good. How much more fun to do it with a group? I came up with the imperfect but effective #plasticfreeicedc hashtag as a way of tracking my summer coffee habit and holding myself accountable. The idea is to get through the summer without using a single-use cup, lid, or straw, of any kind. (Doesn’t matter of course if you’re drinking coffee, or tea, or a thirst-quenching lemonade.) I’d be so glad to have you all play along. In case you need a little encouragement, a few pointers:
+ The easiest way to skip plastic is to embrace straw-free sipping. If you embrace drinking without a straw, you don’t need to buy anything new, remember anything on your way out of the house, or clean anything once you’ve finished. Easy!
+ If you can’t imagine drinking an iced coffee (or anything else) without a straw, you’re in luck. There are a ton of reusable options. Glass, stainless steel, bamboo, silicone, even edible straws making their debut later this summer (I met one of the founders of the edible Lolistraw a few weeks ago and I’m so hopeful these guys get picked up by the restaurant industry, especially). James and I bought our glass straws nearly a decade ago. We’ve loved them and they’ve never broken, but when we had kids, we added stainless steel to our collection so we didn’t have to worry about straws breaking and could tote them around more easily. We have tall straws for the adults in our family, and small cocktail straws for the kids.
+ If cleaning your reusable straw seems daunting, not to worry. Many straws come with their own small brush for cleaning. We keep ours in a glass on the counter by our sink. Give your straw a good rinse and a quick pass with the brush, and you should be just fine. If you’re using your straw to drink something a bit more viscous, like a smoothie, I definitely recommend cleaning your straw immediately to prevent build-up. Otherwise, I never worry about waiting until the end of a day out to give my coffee straw a good wash.
+ When I carry my straw with me, I don’t do anything special to pack it up. I just pop it in my bag. If you feel squeamish about bag debris, you could solve two problems at once and wrap your straw in a cloth napkin that you could also use while out and about. If you feel like you want something even more special, consider a straw sleeve.
+ If you’re looking to up your at-home game, you might find this old cold brew post to be helpful. James and I make cold brew in the summertime in our regular old French press—no special equipment required.
+ We make ice cubes at home with this stainless-steel ice cube tray. It’s really terrific and totally solves the stinky ice cube tray problem I’ve found to be inherent with all silicone trays. (Also great for making coffee ice cubes, if you want to get extra fancy.)
+ It’s not always possible to find coffee shops that serve in glass, but not to worry! There are all kinds of vessels for taking your coffee on the road. I admit that I think just about anything from a regular old mason jar to an insulated, vacuum-sealed, high-tech wonder cup will be totally fine, and I firmly believe that there’s no need to have a cold-brew specific vessel. (But if it helps you not take the plastic one, by all means, go forth and buy one!) Here are a few vessel options:
+ I use a wide-mouth insulated Klean Kanteen water bottle for my water, coffee, and cold-brew, depending on my mood. I prefer the 12-ounce cup, but they also come in 16-ounce and 20-ounce sizes if you’d like something bigger. I love that they’re wide enough to fill with ice, easy to carry around all day without spilling, and insulated to keep my coffee cold (or hot!).
+ If you prefer glass, the new glass Keep Cups also look lovely. I had an original plastic version a decade ago that leaked, but I’m sure things have improved since then and I know lots of folks who swear by these guys.
+ Many of you also stand by the Yeti Rambler tumbler, also insulated. Great! Looks like a very solid option.
+ In case you’re looking out for my boba consumption. I have, finally, decided there’s enough room in the cabinet for a stainless-steel boba straw or two. Can’t go missing out on *all* the fun, now can I?
Who knew there’d be so much to write about saying no to plastic coffee cups? Let me know if you have any other questions and please, please, join the fun!