habit shift: plastic-free iced coffee.

May 9, 2018

plastic-free iced coffee | reading my tea leavesLast 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:plastic-free iced coffee | reading my tea leaves

+ 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. plastic-free iced coffee | reading my tea leaves

+ 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.plastic-free iced coffee | reading my tea leaves

+ 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?plastic-free iced coffee | reading my tea leaves

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!

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41 Comments

  • Reply Kate May 9, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Hey!! I’m not a usual commenter, but I’m a longtime reader and love your work. THANK YOU for posting about this. I’ve been on the journey toward zero/low waste for years now (my brain doesn’t do cold turkey well) and iced coffee is one of my remaining PROBLEMS. I.love. It. I’ve been doing the no straw/bring my own for a while, but I’m so motivated by your determination and I’m going to join you for REALZ. Also just put those boba straws in my cart bc Vivi/Coco/gongcha/etc are just too delicious sometimes. Anyway, this is mostly a rambled thank you for saying all the things.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2018 at 11:31 am

      Thanks so much, Kate!! Cheers to all this!

  • Reply Laurie May 9, 2018 at 11:30 am

    I love and support this all the way (other than not being a fan of iced coffee)! I’m working hard at avoiding disposables and remembering to ask for no straw. Am also working hard at getting my ten year-old son on board with this as well (perhaps if I offer to buy him his own stainless steel straw…).

    How do you switch from coffee to water in your Kleen Kanteen without the water tasting like coffee? Or do you just embrace that? 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      I guess I embrace it! I wash my cup really frequently and I don’t notice an overwhelming coffee flavor!

    • Reply Jenny May 9, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      I have a 16oz insulated tumbler for my coffee and a 32oz insulated bottle for water, both of which I must have near me at all times. Definitely more to carry, but I avoid the coffee-flavored-water problem.

    • Reply Ris May 9, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      I wash mine with baking soda and vinegar and it really does the trick!

  • Reply Anna Lee Hirschi May 9, 2018 at 11:41 am

    I saw the hashtag a few days ago, and finally took the plunge this morning! Turns out my hydroflask is an excellent iced coffee vessel. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Reply Tamara Bryan May 9, 2018 at 11:55 am

    I’m so glad you posted the boba note; while I don’t have a problem drinking my coffee without straw, boba almost requires one. I take my daughter to dance twice a week and there’s a boba cart right next to her studio that we treat ourselves with on occasion. I put mason jars with boba straws in the car for whenever the mood strikes us and the owner of the cart happily uses those instead of the plastic cups. win win all around.

  • Reply Yael @ Nosherium May 9, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    This is so great! I was delighted when my favorite local Oakland coffee shop (Highwire) stoped carrying straws entirely! Now they have compostable iced cups with compostable sipping lids! I never wanted a straw enough to carry one of my own, so this is a nice improvement!

  • Reply Jenn May 9, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Silicone straws were the biggest game changer for me. I don’t always like the feel of stainless against my teeth which kept me from using my stainless straws as often. I have a couple regular ones and a giant one so I can make my own bubble tea (have yet to find the tapioca pearls in something other than plastic bags though).

  • Reply Jay May 9, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    This post makes me want to rush out and get myself an iced coffee and glass straws for the entire family! Can you please link to the glass straws again? The current link is taking me to the ice cube trays.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      Fixed!

      • Reply Jay May 9, 2018 at 1:18 pm

        Thank you, Erin. The glass straws are so lovely!

  • Reply lauren demarco May 9, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    An obstacle: I have noticed that some restaurants will put straw into the glasses for you, SO annoying. I try to ask for no straws when I sit down to order but sometimes forget, big bummer. face in hand emoji.

    Also,
    I was thinking about writing a letter to the managers of some of my favorite local restaurants with some education on how wasteful straws are, and if they would consider efforts to help the problem. I think people are ignorant to the problem and thus don’t think of solutions on their own.
    I think that a lot of businesses worry about customers being upset. I have seen businesses put a little note on their tables explaining why they are straw-free or straws only upon request; this is a good suggestion. If I formulate a letter, I will email it to you, maybe other readers might want to do take it to some of their favorite local places too.

  • Reply Zara May 9, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    I am cheap enough to think $18 USD + shipping (I’m in Canada) is an outrageous price for a straw holder. However, I am also high-maintenance enough to want one. Thanks for the easy sewing project inspo!

  • Reply Judith A Ross May 9, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    I love this campaign! One interesting thing that they do at the weekly Portland State University Farmer’s market is use washable plastic tableware and regular silverware at the different prepared food carts. There’s a central location in the middle of the market with signs showing where to leave your cup from, say, the kombucha booth and your dirty plate and used silverware from the Mexican food cart. They also have designated bins for compost and recycling there. It makes it easy for everyone to avoid the single use plastic cups, plates and forks and goes to show that it’s not so hard to eliminate the throwaway plastic on a large scale.

  • Reply Jenny May 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Yay, Erin!!! Changing lives, as usual! 🙂

  • Reply Kate May 9, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    I’m so excited about this.
    Our local chapter of Surfrider has been doing a campaign to get restaurants and bars to stop using plastic straws. It seems to be going really well. They have a toolkit, here: https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/surfrider-foundation-releases-toolkit-to-eliminate-plastic-straws

  • Reply Jessie Buckmaster May 9, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Yes! Iced coffee is my weakness, we’ve got a local drive through that has the most delicious nitro cold brew (it’s like 24 oz… =| ) I need to get a giant tumbler to bring for my fix (I only allow myself to indulge a couple times a month because whoa caffeine).

  • Reply Sarah May 9, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Dear Erin, I love that you use your popularity to inspire these small, simple, totally doable changes that actually add up if many people join in! I’m also impressed by the sheer number of straws being used every day in the US – I had to look up the number for Germany and was surprised, as it’s almost as high (in relation to the population ). I didn’t expect that, but then again, I hardly buy drinks (or food) to-go anyway. Other than that – always such a pleasure to come to your blog!

  • Reply McKenzie Allyshia May 9, 2018 at 10:53 pm

    I absolutely love that you have brought awareness to how awful plastic straws are. Ironically, I went on a field trip with my son’s school today to our local science center. There was an exhibit that showed the contents that were pulled out of a whale’s stomach: plastic bags, straws, a jump rope, and so much other garbage. It was absolutely awful to think about! Definitely makes me want to go straw-free. Thank you for sharing this post ♥

  • Reply Tyra May 10, 2018 at 12:08 am

    I’ve had a glass keep cup for a few years now (maybe they were in australia first?) and it’s wonderful. They are definitely not leakproof though, they describe the lids as “spillproof”.

    We have two cups and three lids for the two of us (and my son even had a tiny cup for babycinos when he was little) – I find I’m much more likely to use it every day for every coffee with easier access to a clean lid!

  • Reply Lacey May 10, 2018 at 7:25 am

    your blog is one of my faves. i love that you write thoughtfully about things that really matter to us, our families, and our environment. and i never feel like you’re YELLING your opinions/thoughts. haha. 😉 you’re just sharing in hopes that it encourages others. cheers to that! thanks!!

  • Reply Michaela May 10, 2018 at 8:52 am

    I love this! My biggest barrier to avoiding plastic cups/straws is bubble tea- at Kung Fu Tea (the locations around me, at least), they make it in a plastic cup and plastic seal over the top, which they then put in the shaker machine and you have to poke a hole in the plastic wrap that’s melted onto the top of the cup. I’d love if you had suggestions to avoid that (or maybe a recipe for DIY bubble tea?)! Thanks as always for your thoughtful posts!

  • Reply Summer May 10, 2018 at 8:56 am

    So, we’ve managed to break all of our glass straws with wood floors and laminate counters! We must just be extra rough on things. The stainless steel ones are working great, but don’t feel quite as luxurious. 🙂

  • Reply Kim May 10, 2018 at 11:18 am

    +1 for keep cup! I’ve had my 12oz glass cup for around 4 years. The cork band wore out after about 3 years of regular use and I lost my lid mysteriously around 3.5 years. Luckily they sell replacement pieces separately, so I can keep using the original glass.

  • Reply Cynthia May 10, 2018 at 11:39 am

    For those interested in trying to sway their local coffeeshops and restaurants from plastic straw use, why not suggest a return to the paper straw? They come in all sorts of fanciful iterations these days and are completely compostable. I keep a pack or two in my party drawer for lemonade as that is the only time I feel the need for a straw.

  • Reply Anna Lieding May 10, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Thank you so much for the post Natalie. So much amazing information and definitely and inspiration to take a stand! Living on a small island with not many options of eateries/cafes to frequent I have really started to hone in on which restaurants I need to remember to be adamant about no straw or no plastic takeout condiment container. Or I guess just skip those places altogether is a good idea too. Mahalo!

  • Reply Anna Lieding May 10, 2018 at 9:25 pm

    Thank you so much for the post Erin. So much amazing information and definitely and inspiration to take a stand! Living on a small island with not many options of eateries/cafes to frequent I have really started to hone in on which restaurants I need to remember to be adamant about no straw or no plastic takeout condiment container. Or I guess just skip those places altogether is a good idea too. Mahalo!

  • Reply Jane May 10, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Sign me up! One of my favorite ways to avoid a straw is to pop a Cuppow onto a wide mouth jar…perfect for smoothies + other blended drinks as well as the iced variety…and the barista doesn’t have to struggle to pour it into my Kleen Kanteen! 🙂

  • Reply Heather May 10, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    I absolutely love this!! Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I live in Seattle, where a campaign called “Strawless in Seattle” has caught on, and we’re going to be the largest metropolitan city to ban plastic straws starting in July. More info here! https://www.strawlessocean.org/seattle/

  • Reply Suzane May 14, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    How do you clean your grinds out of the French press? I have so much trouble getting it clean. It might be the type of grind I use (Illy decaf – and we reuse the cans for small Lego’s, crafts and for things in my husbands shed). I hardly drink iced coffee due to the labor of cleaning the French press and coffee places rarely have decaf iced coffee readily available. Thanks! Great post as always.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 14, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      Darn it! We’ve never had any trouble! We just dump the grinds in the compost and wash the glass beaker and press! I always rave about how easy it is to clean!

  • Reply K Ann May 15, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    Will my much needed summer ice cream in a cone instead of a styrofoam cup work?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 16, 2018 at 9:18 am

      oh man, totally!

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