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

iStock/blackred
iStock/blackred

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 recently opened 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.

1. Compostable Straws; $8 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 180 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.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Stainless Steel Straws; $8 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.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Glass Straws; $11 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.

Buy 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.

Buy it: Etsy

5. Hydro Flask 32-Ounce Tumbler and Straw Lid; $50 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 a 10-ounce version designed for wine and liquor—or, alternately, juice and small amounts of coffee—and a 22-ounce and 32-ounce version for larger drinks. For iced coffee, we prefer the 32-ounce version, because that gives you tons of room for extra ice. It comes in 12 colors and is covered by a lifetime guarantee.

Buy it: Tumbler, Lid on Hydro Flask; Tumbler, Lid on Amazon

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.

Buy it: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

7. Simple Modern 16-Ounce Tumbler With Lid; $18

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.

Buy it: Amazon

A version of this article first ran in 2018. It has been updated to reflect current availability as of July 2019.

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Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

When Al Capone Ran a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression

Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

Four years after gangster Al Capone took over Chicago’s leading crime syndicate, he had raked in over $40 million—around $550 million today. The money came from illegally selling booze during Prohibition; bottles were distributed to more than 10,000 speakeasies and brothels in a vast bootlegging network across the Midwest.

Capone’s alcohol distribution was unlawful, but to many Americans, the man’s work was heroic. He claimed he was just a businessman giving the people what they wanted—and what the people wanted more than anything in the 1920s was liquor.

But Capone’s role as an Italian-American Robin Hood didn’t stop there. As he orchestrated criminal activities behind the scenes, Capone simultaneously launched a program to provide milk to Chicago school children and donated huge sums to local charities.

It was the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, however, that spurred Capone to his greatest work of philanthropy. Almost overnight, the American economy collapsed into the Great Depression. Banks failed, businesses shuttered, and millions were suddenly unemployed and hungry. Hundreds of soup kitchens popped up around the country. One of them belonged to Al Capone.

No Questions Asked

Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression
Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression.
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

When Al Capone’s soup kitchen opened at 935 South State Street, in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, in mid-November 1930, hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans were out of work. By the following year, 624,000 people—or 50 percent of the Chicago workforce—were out of a job.

Capone’s charity had no name, just a sign over the door that advertised “Free Soup, Coffee & Doughnuts for the Unemployed.” Inside, women in white aprons served an average of 2200 people a day with a smile and no questions asked. Breakfast was hot coffee and sweet rolls. Both lunch and dinner consisted of soup and bread. Every 24 hours, diners devoured 350 loaves of bread and 100 dozen rolls. They washed down their meals with 30 pounds of coffee sweetened with 50 pounds of sugar. The whole operation cost $300 per day.

The soup kitchen didn’t advertise its connection to Capone, but the mobster-benefactor’s name was connected to it in stories printed in local newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and The Rock Island Argus. Those who were down on their luck, though, apparently had few qualms about eating from the hand of Chicago’s worst crime boss. Often the line to get in to the kitchen was so long that it wound past the door of the city’s police headquarters, where Capone was considered Public Enemy #1, according to Harper’s Magazine. The line was particularly lengthy when Capone’s soup kitchen hosted a Thanksgiving meal of cranberry sauce and beef stew for 5000 hungry Chicagoans. (Why beef and not turkey? After 1000 turkeys were stolen from a nearby department store, Capone feared he’d be blamed for the theft and made a last-minute menu change.)

Capone's Ulterior Motives

Capone’s efforts to feed Chicago during the darkest days of the Great Depression weren’t entirely altruistic. It wasn’t even originally his idea, but that of his friend and political ally Daniel Serritella, who was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1930. Nor did Capone invest much of his own money into the operation. Instead, Deirdre Bair writes in Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend, he bribed and extorted other businesses to stock the pantry. In just one example, during Seritella's 1932 trial for conspiring with grocers to cheat customers [PDF], the court discovered that a load of ducks that had been donated to Christmas baskets for the poor ended up in Capone’s soup kitchen instead.

Perhaps more than anything, Capone opened his soup kitchen to get the public back on his side after he was implicated in the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. In that murder spree, Capone's associates were believed to have assassinated seven men, five of whom hailed from the rival North Side Gang, inside a Chicago parking garage—though no one was ever prosecuted. Harper’s writer Mary Borden distilled Capone's double-dealing when she described him as “an ambidextrous giant who kills with one hand and feeds with the other.”

Capone’s soup kitchen closed abruptly in April 1932. The proprietors claimed that the kitchen was no longer needed because the economy was picking up, even though the number of unemployed across the country had increased by 4 million between 1931 and 1932. The diners who had attended the kitchen daily were forced to move on to another one.

Two months later, Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion; the charges that eventually landed him in San Francisco’s Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Though Capone vowed to reopen his soup kitchen during his trial, its doors stayed shut. By the time he was released from prison in 1939, a raging case of syphilis had rendered Capone mentally and physically incapable of managing his own life, let alone that of Chicago’s once-dominant crime syndicate and the soup kitchen that softened his gangster image.

Capone died in 1947, but his larger-than-life legacy lives on. His soup kitchen wasn’t so lucky. The building became a flophouse, and in 1955, Chicago authorities deemed it a fire hazard and shut it down permanently. Today, only a parking lot remains at the site of Chicago’s most notorious food pantry.