Plastic Reduction Mission 2: Operation Travel Mugs

Exactly a year ago today I wrote about how I’d switched from regular shampoo to using shampoo bars.  Part of that choice was to improve my hair health, but part of it was to see if I could reduce my plastic use.  I’m quite proud to say that I’m still using the shampoo bars, and they’ve replaced all my other soaps.  The only plastic bottle I buy now is my conditioner, which lasts 2-3 months.  The amazing success of this experiment has made me look at other aspects of my life and try to figure out how I can eliminate disposable plastics from them, too.  One of my more ‘quirky’ ones has been taming the glut of travel mugs and plastic tumblers in my kitchen cabinets.

They can't even be contained by the cabinet anymore!

They can’t even be contained by the cabinet anymore!

I’m fairly certain most people share this problem; after all, these mugs and tumbler are so cheap and ubiquitous that organizations often give them away.   The problem is that these cups have a short life span.  The plastic threads on the lids wear down and the bottle will start leaking or you’ll lose a lid or the body will crack a little.  If you’ve got a stainless steel mug body, you might even start thinking your liquids are acquiring a metal taste.  The broken parts (hopefully) get tossed, but you might end up keeping the ‘perfectly good’ pieces, only to later acquire another at some other event and indefinitely storing the misfit mugs.  Obviously, this eventually generates quite a bit of waste.

My mug problem clearly needed to end, but I still needed a spill-proof way to consume liquids while I was on the move or near a computer.  I decided that since my problem began with keeping the ‘good’ parts of broken bottles, I really needed was a way to get replaceable parts.  Unfortunately, there’s not a commercial mug marketed like this in all of Western society.  Luckily for me, a great hack lay in my garage.

My old co-op housemate C working around my first major canning jar haul in my old kitchen.

I have an enormous surfeit of mason jars.  And, since I’m no gentle canner, I know these jars are all but indestructible.  In my six years of knocking them around, dropping them, and occasionally throwing them across a room, I’ve only broken four jars.  Four.

The fact is that mason jars are made of a thicker, stronger glass than jars for commercial food preservation.  They’re leagues thicker than the glassware used for regular drinkware:  maybe four times the thickness.  As everyone knows, the thicker a piece of glass is, the stronger it is.  A 3/16″ thick glass shelf with supports at every linear foot can hold a whopping 49 pounds per square foot of glass.  Increase the thickness to an inch, and that glass can support 1489 pounds per square foot!  Mason jars are also made of a soda lime glass, which is the same sort of glass as American Pyrex.  Therefore, they can withstand a decent amount of thermal shock (though it is a good idea not to put a hot jar on a cold surface).

Mason jars, then, seemed to be the answer to my plastic mug problem.  They’re non-reactive glass, they’re durable as heck, they come in a variety of sizes, they’ll never leak since the threads can’t wear out, and if any of them ever do break, they’re easily recyclable and the surviving parts can be put on a new jar.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.  But how do I turn the wide-open jar into a spill proof mug?

Well, dear reader, I did come up with a DIY solution that works with a straw as a tumbler, and that will be the topic of a future post.  As much as I like my tumbler for smoothies, though, I much prefer my commercial Cuppow for sipping.  Cuppow’s designers Joshua Resnikoff and Aaron Panone basically designed a thick, durable, BPA-free plastic disk in a shape similar to that of disposable coffee cup lids.  The lid is held next to the jar with a standard canning ring, which means it doesn’t have plastic threads that will wear down over time.  If anything happens to the ring or the Cuppow, they can be replaced with a new part and the old one recycled.  The Cuppow lids are available in two sizes:  one to fit a wide-mouth jar and one to fit a standard-mouth jar.  The standard lids also have a more diamond-shaped sipping hole, which allows for a disposable plastic straw to be inserted.  Both retail for $7.99 with free shipping if you purchase four or more lids through Cuppow itself.  Should you purchase them from a brick-and-mortar store, though, you’ll likely pay about $10 a lid.

Sexy Cuppow Promotional Image

I have been using my Cuppow with a 16 oz wide-mouth jar for about two months now, and I have to say I love it.  If I happen to knock over my drinking jar, only a few drops dribble out before I right the mug.  It’s definitely comfortable to sip from, and I find that the more closed container is keeping my tea warmer longer:  an excellent bonus when you’re a slow sipper.  I get compliments on it wherever I go, and I find that the area coffee houses adore it when I give them my own mug to fill rather than getting a to-go cup.  Many even give me a small discount.  When I’m finished with my drink, I just flip the Cuppow over and cover it with a regular canning lid before re-attaching the band.  After I do that, the jar is water tight, and I can throw it in my bag without thinking twice.

The one issue I had was that I often use this lid for drinking hot tea, and holding a hot glass jar was not comfortable.  I suppose I could have got a mason jar with a handle, but I didn’t want to buy a new jar when I had dozens.  Instead, I knit my jar a cozy, and it works wonderfully.  There’s loads of DIY hacks out there for this:  just google ‘mason jar cozy.’

Now instead of a cabinet full of mismatched mugs, I just have my one drinking jar, and Mamma Earth is a little bit happier with me.

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