7 Products to Make Your Iced Coffee Obsession More Eco-Friendly

iStock
iStock

As you may have heard, plastic straws are on their way out. There is an increasing push to phase out hard-to-recycle single-use straws in restaurant chains and even entire cities, and many people are becoming aware for the first time of just how harmful straws can be to the environment. So what’s an iced coffee aficionado to do? While there are some alternatives in the works—a new paper straw factory is opening in the UK, for one, and Starbucks is redesigning its plastic lids to include sippable lips—for now, finding alternatives to grabbing several plastic straws a day to support an addiction to cold brew, iced tea, and fountain sodas is largely up to consumers themselves.

If you’ve started feeling guilty about your two-a-day iced coffee habit or your love of an icy Coke, there are a number of options to replace all that single-use plastic you’re used to throwing away. Here are seven items that can make your cold beverage purchases a little more environmentally friendly. Let’s start with the straws themselves.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of sales. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck gift hunting!

1. COMPOSTABLE STRAWS; $11 FOR 100

A package of white compostable straws
Repurpose

Don’t want to give up the convenience of a classic plastic straw? Repurpose makes compostable straws out of plant matter that, unlike the conventional plastic options, will biodegrade. According to the company, they’ll break down after 90 days in an industrial composting facility. Amazon reviewers note that the straws look and feel almost exactly like plastic straws, so you don’t have to change your habits too much.

Find It: Amazon

2. STAINLESS STEEL STRAWS; $10 FOR 6

Two cleaning brushes, three straight stainless steel straws, and three bent straws with colored tips
Amazon

Stainless steel is durable, easy to clean, and affordable, making it the go-to option for many people looking to replace their plastic straws. However, metal straws can also feel harsh and cold. Luckily, each straw in this set has a soft silicone tip on the top for maximum mouth comfort. This pack of six comes with both straight and bent straws of different diameters, meaning they’ll work for thick smoothies as well as for coffee or soda. They’re also slightly longer than regular straws, so they’ll fit tall tumblers.

Find It: Amazon

3. GLASS STRAWS; $20 FOR 2

Two purple straws fit inside a blue carrying case.
Amazon

Glass straws are smooth to sip from, especially if you’re a person who doesn’t love the metallic taste of stainless steel straws. While they look delicate, they’re sturdier than you think, and can survive banging around in your bag all day or getting thrown in the sink. (They’re made from the same type of shatterproof glass as old-school Pyrex dishware.) While these colorful straws aren’t the cheapest glass versions available on the web, they come with a crucial component that not all manufacturers offer—a carrying case to keep your straws clean and safe throughout the day.

Find It: Amazon

4. STRAW CARRYING CASE; $14

A teal straw bag with illustrations of French bulldogs and catcuses
Shaunacy Ferro, Mental Floss

Not all reusable straws come with a case, but having one will improve the likelihood that you'll commit to ditching plastic straws. Instead of planning every coffee, soda, or smoothie you’ll buy, it's easiest to always have one of your reusable straws waiting in your bag. These colorful pouches from Hawaii-based Etsy seller Bernadette Rapozo come in a variety of patterns and feature a waterproof lining so that you don’t have to worry about throwing your still-slightly-wet straw in it after you finish your drink.

Find It: Etsy

5. HYDRO FLASK 22-OUNCE TUMBLER AND STRAW LID; $43 FOR BOTH

A black tumblr and a lid with a straw in it
Hydro Flask

If you’ve already committed to trying to reduce your straw usage, you may also find yourself feeling guilty about using plastic cups. This well-insulated stainless steel cup from Hydro Flask promises to fit in most cupholders and has a non-slip powder finish on the exterior for easy gripping, two design factors that led to it being named The Wirecutter’s favorite tumbler. The double-wall structure is made to keep your drink cold for a full 24 hours.

Hydro Flask recently debuted a splash-proof straw lid, sold separately, that makes the tumbler feel more like a traditional disposable plastic cup. The tumblers come in various sizes, including 10-ounce versions designed for wine and liquor—or, alternately, juice and small amounts of coffee—and 22-ounce and 32-ounce versions for larger drinks. For coffee, we prefer the 22-ounce version, because very few people can handle 32 ounces of highly caffeinated cold brew.

Find It: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

6. TERVIS INSULATED 16-OUNCE TUMBLER AND LID; $16 FOR BOTH

A clear plastic tumbler and black lid that reads 'Tervis'
Tervis, Amazon

Tervis makes simple, affordable plastic tumblers that come in a wide variety of designs and colors. (You may recognize them from college bookstores, since they’re available with a number of university’s emblems on them.) They’re especially handy if you’re looking to pair them with your own straw, since the large, puncture-style hole can fit almost any size straw.

Find It: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

7. SIMPLE MODERN 16-OUNCE TUMBLER WITH LID; $16

A dark gray tumbler with a black straw
Simple Modern

If you want something similar in design to a single-use plastic cafe cup but are looking for something more durable than most reusable plastic tumblers, Simple Modern’s 16-ounce stainless steel travel tumblers might be the right fit. While more affordable than Hydro Flask’s version, these tumblers also feature stainless steel insulated walls designed to keep your drink icy for hours. Each one also comes with two lids: a straw lid for cold drinks and a sippable lid for hot beverages.

Find It: Amazon

See Which Ingredients Cooks From Around the World Love Most

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iStock

Food is incredibly regionally specific, and cuisines have been refined over millennia based on what ingredients have been available and what local cooks have come up with. Even though global trade has made the same spices and other flavor staples available virtually anywhere in the world, Mexican food still tastes radically different from Chinese food, and Italian food from Irish food. We know this intuitively—few of us pick up a bottle of soy sauce thinking we’ll use it in a traditional Italian pasta dish—but it’s still fascinating to see a breakdown of just which ingredients certain cuisines have cornered the market on, as you can in these charts.

Nathan Yau of FlowingData visualized the most-used ingredients in 20 different cuisines, using data on ingredients from Yummly to figure out what distinct flavors and ingredients country-specific cuisines gravitate towards.

Across the world, salt is king. It’s the most-used ingredient in 75 percent of the cuisines Yau looked at, and the only cuisine in which it doesn’t appear in the top five most-used ingredients is Korean food—but, like in other Asian cuisines, Korean recipes use soy sauce more than any other ingredient, and that in itself is very salty.

Because so many cuisines rely heavily on the same ingredients, like soy sauce and salt, Yau also calculated the ingredients most specific to each cuisine: the ones disproportionately used in one country’s traditional cuisine. This is where you start to get a picture of the kind of ingredients we associate heavily with particular regionally specific dishes. Mexican food relies on tortillas; Greek food, feta cheese; Korean, kimchi; Thai, lemongrass; Russian, beets; and Cajun, andouille sausage. Some ingredients may come as a bit of a surprise, though. Southern cooking in the U.S. uses vanilla extract more than other cuisines do, and the French love shallots. Cajun cooks are big fans of celery ribs, and somehow, though numerous cuisines use onions heavily, Brazilian cooks use them slightly more than anyone else.

The data relies on Yummly recipes, so the results are limited to what the recipe recommendation site has available. It's possible that home cooks working in each cuisine do something slightly different that might move the data in another direction. But, since Yummly currently has more than 2 million recipes available, it seems like a relatively large snapshot of cooking options.

Explore the interactive graphic and learn more at FlowingData.

15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of The Great British Baking Show

Netflix
Netflix

by Sarah Dobbs

If you’re an American fan of The Great British Bake Off you probably know it better as The Great British Baking Show (though its most devoted fans simply call it GBBO, which saves a lot of time). While its ninth season just kicked off on England’s Channel 4, American audiences are only now just getting caught up on season eight via Netflix. And with new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig taking over for Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, plus Prue Leith taking over for Mary Berry as host, the latest incarnation of the show looks a lot different.

A bona fide global sensation, the baking competition has the power to cause otherwise rational human beings to immediately run to their nearest supermarket in search of obscure ingredients like psyllium or Amarula cream liqueur. It’s a charming, retro, warming hug of a TV show. But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes? Without destroying any of your illusions, here are some secrets about how the producers whip up one of the world's most beloved cooking shows.

1. THE REASON WHY IT HAS TWO DIFFERENT NAMES IS SIMPLE.

A scene from The Great British Bake Off
Netflix

If you’ve ever wondered why the series is called The Great British Bake Off in England and The Great British Baking Show in America, the answer is simple: Pillsbury. The Pillsbury Bake Off, which kicked off in 1949, is probably America’s most famous baking contest. And the company didn’t want there to be any confusion among viewers, hence The Great British Baking Show.

2. THE OVENS ALL HAVE TO BE TESTED EVERY DAY.

It’s difficult enough to make a cake that Paul Hollywood won’t declare either under- or over-baked without having to worry about whether your oven is working properly. So for every day of filming, every oven has to be tested. And because this is a baking show, they’re tested with cakes. Yes, every day every oven has a Victoria sponge cake cooked in it, to make sure everything’s working exactly as it should be.

3. EVERY TIME SOMEONE OPENS AN OVEN DOOR, THERE'S A CAMERA WATCHING THEM.

To make sure they catch all the drama, GBBO producers insist that every time a bake is put into or taken out of an oven, the moment must be caught on camera. So whenever a baker wants to put their goodies into an oven, or check if they’re ready to come out, they need to grab someone to make sure the moment gets captured on film. (Which must be a hassle for the first couple of weeks, when there are more than 10 bakers all trying their best to produce a perfect bake at once.)

4. THE CONTESTANTS HAVE TO WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES ALL WEEKEND.

It’s a minor thing, but have you ever noticed that the bakers wear the same clothes for an entire episode, even though it’s shot over two days? For continuity purposes, the contestants are asked to wear the same outfits for the entire weekend. If you’re the kind of baker who ends up with flour all over your shirt whenever you bake up a loaf of bread, the second day of filming could be a bit of a nightmare.

"Luckily they change the aprons so we don't look like a Jackson Pollock painting by the end of it," 2013 champion Frances Quinn told Cosmopolitan. "I think layers [is the answer], but even then you still have to wear what you had on, on top. Difficult."

5. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T HAVE A LOT OF DOWNTIME.

Having any time to spare is not something that season seven contestant Jane Beedle remembers happening regularly for the contestants. "Maybe once or twice, and when they did we would just sit and have a cup of tea and chat with the people around us,” she told the Mirror. "They don't like it if you have nothing to do, so they try and make the challenges as difficult as possible to keep you busy."

6. THE TEMPERATURE IN THE TENT CAN MAKE OR BREAK A BAKE.

Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and Frances Quinn in 'The Great British Bake Off'
BBC

Forget setting the oven to the correct temperature—the temperature inside the tent is just as important to a bake. "It's completely alien to your own kitchen at home,” Quinn told Cosmopolitan. “The temperature fluctuates—you'd be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we'd try and make pastry and it would be 27 degrees outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show."

7. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE CREATED BY TOM HOVEY, AFTER THE EPISODE HAS FILMED.

You know those fun illustrations of the confections that pop up when each baker explains what they’re going to make that day? Those are all drawn by illustrator Tom Hovey. He was working as a video editor on the first season of GBBO when the producers realized they needed an extra visual element—so he offered his illustration skills. And while we see the illustrations on screen before the bakers attempt to make them a reality, Hovey told the BBC he draws them “a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed … I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after. I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and colored digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It's a fairly well streamlined process now.”

Even if a bake goes horribly wrong, Hovey said his “illustrations are a representation of what the bakers hope to create. Even if the bakers don't produce what they’ve intended to I have a degree of artistic license to make them look good.”

8. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T INTERACT WITH THE JUDGES VERY MUCH.

“They very much tried to keep it unbiased,” Quinn said about how the bakers don’t spend much time interacting with the judges. “We saw a lot more of Mel and Sue. Mary and Paul would purely come in to do what we called the royal tour—where they'd come in and find out what you were making, and then they'd come back in for judging. You're not in the same hotel having sleepovers! You form more of a relationship after the show when you see them at things like BBC Good Food or whatever—but they need to keep their distance [on the show]. They're there as judges."

9. MAKING SURE THAT THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE IS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE IS ONE PERSON'S JOB.

Sandi Toksvig in 'The Great British Bake Off'
Netflix

Another vital behind-the-scenes role is that of the food researcher. It’s down to them to make sure that the elaborate concoction the judges have decided the bakers have to whip up is actually possible, given the ingredients, instructions, and time the bakers will be allowed.

The tent presents its own challenges, too, because it could be hot or cold, depending on the weather, and it tends to have quite a wobbly floor, which can make delicate decorating work trickier than it might otherwise seem. “The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you’d got so many camera guys running around,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.

10. THE SHOW GOT INTO SOME TROUBLE FOR ITS PARTNERSHIP WITH SMEG.

Part of GBBO’s homey charm has to do with the setup of the tent where the bakers do their cooking, and few appliances spell “retro” as well as a colorful Smeg refrigerator. A viewer fed up with what they described as “blatant product promotion” wrote to the Radio Times to complain, and an investigation was launched into the series’ agreement with Smeg. As BBC guidelines state that a series may "not accept free or reduced cost products" in return for "on-air or online credits, links or off-air marketing,” the broadcaster ended up having to write the company a check for all the times their product got some screen time.

11. THERE ARE NEVER ANY LEFTOVERS.

The judges only take a mouthful of every bake, which seems to leave an awful lot of leftover pastries, cakes, and ridiculously complicated bread sculptures. But don’t worry—none of it goes to waste. “The crew eats all the leftovers," Beedle told The Mirror. "We get some brought to us in the green room so we can taste each other's bakes, but it's only slithers."

12. HUNDREDS OF SEASON FIVE VIEWERS WROTE IN TO COMPLAIN ABOUT “SABOTAGE.”

Midway through season five, contestant Iain Watters had a bit of an issue with his Baked Alaska. Realizing that his ice cream had not yet set, he threw the entire dish into the trash rather than serve the judges a subpar dessert and was sent home as a result. Footage from the episode made is seem as if fellow contestant Diana Beard had removed his ice cream from the freezer. Beard left the show at just about the same time due to health issues, but some viewers (811, to be exact) smelled sabotage—and wrote in to the show’s producers to complain. Media watchdog group Ofcom looked into the matter, but said that they had assessed viewers’ complaints and “they do not raise issues warranting further investigation under Ofcom’s rules.”

Paul Hollywood took to Twitter to clear up what became known as “bingate,” tweeting: “Ice cream being left out of fridge last night for 40 seconds did not destroy Iain’s chances in the bake off, what did was his decision BIN.”

13. MARY BERRY WATCHED BREAKING BAD BACKSTAGE.

Although it looks pretty nonstop on screen, there’s quite a bit of downtime during the show’s filming days. Especially for the show’s judges and hosts. Former judge Mary Berry had one unique way of passing the time: binge-watching Breaking Bad. “It’s shocking,” Berry told The Telegraph. “Then you get into it and you think: ‘Have I seen episode four or five?’ You get hooked. It’s better than motor racing, which [my husband] Paul watches—though I’d prefer Downton Abbey.” She’d apparently rope former hosts Mel and Sue into watching it with her on occasion. What better way to relax during a long day of baking than by watching Walter White, umm, baking?

14. THE APPLICATION FORM IS NO JOKE.

Fancy your chances in the Bake Off tent? If you’ve been inspired by the show and reckon you could nab a couple of Star Baker titles, brace yourself: The application form is a whopping eight pages long, and it’s full of probing questions. As well as giving details of your hobbies, lifestyle, and level of experience with various types of baked goods, it also asks applicants to describe their baking style, and answer a couple of existential-sounding questions.

"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," fourth season contestant Beca Lyne-Pirkis said. "It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."

Still fancy applying? Though submissions are not open at the moment, you can keep your eyes open for when the next batch of contestants are being accepted here.

15. THE AUDITION PROCESS IS EVEN MORE GRUELING.

If you happen to make it through the application process, the audition process is even more difficult. “Every person who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests,” GBBO creator and executive producer Anna Beattie told The Telegraph. In addition to the application form, The Telegraph reported that there is “a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview with a producer. If they get through that, there is a second audition baking two recipes … in front of the cameras, and an interview with the show psychologist to make sure they can cope with being filmed for up to 16 hours a day.”

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