Be Your Own Birder

The Relationship Between Straws and Ice

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This year I’ve been working to eliminate straws from my life, and so far, I’ve been reasonably successful, having said “No straws, please” or simply not taken a straw on 19 different occasions to date – meals out, takeaway food and even just a refreshing drink on a hot day. Yet in doing so, I’ve discovered an interesting relationship between straws and ice, otherwise known as learning to drink from a cup again.

At home, I use ice trays in the freezer to make larger cubes to cool drinks, and it only takes 2-4 cubes for a tall glass. Those cubes are big enough that they don’t fall around in the glass too much, and whatever liquid they are cooling, be it soda, milk, or juice, easily moves around the ice for drinking without inadvertently catching a cube. The ice provided with restaurant drinks, however, is often either crushed into much smaller bits or else it is a smoother, flatter shape that layers much more compactly in a cup.

Ice Cubes

Ice Cubes – Photo by mehmet canli

In my own home, drinks are generally pre-cooled in the refrigerator before being poured into a glass. The sole exception is the occasional two-liter of soda that might be chosen at the last minute, and thus go straight from the pantry to the glass. In that rare instance, I use several extra ice cubes for faster cooling. In restaurants, however, drinks are generally not pre-cooled, and depend solely on ice to get quickly chilled before being served. Crushed ice or smaller, flatter cubes, as well as those round, bead-like cubes with the hole in the middle, have more surface area to be in contact with the liquid, and will cool a drink much faster than larger, at-home cubes. Yet that also makes the cubes much more likely to get sipped up with a drink, and crushed ice and smaller cubes will more easily blend together into a larger mass in the cup, one that can get stuck.

But what does this have to do with straws? If I am using my own ice cubes, cups and drinks at home, there is no straw needed. But with a restaurant or take-out drink, that mass of smaller ice pieces can get wedged in the cup, making drinking more hazardous. If I were using a straw, the thin plastic tube would poke easily through the ice, and because ice is more buoyant and floats on the liquid, I’d be able to sip up the drink easily. But without a straw, I have to tip the cup up to drink, which means I run the risk of encountering an iceberg of crushed ice and chilled soda that slides into my face, or else if I’m more timid with the drinking, I might have to contend with only getting small sips as I try to drink around the ice – not so satisfying on a hot day.

What does this mean for straw use overall? I’m committed to this conservation, so it means nothing other than I have to be a bit more careful when sipping a drink to be sure I don’t spill, dribble or splash (all of which I’ve done in the last few weeks). Gently squeezing the cup before drinking can break up an ice mass, and sipping more discreetly prevents most problems. It’s a skill we all had as children, and one that can easily be learned again. Sea turtles, marine birds, fish, manatees and other wildlife are well worth it.

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