7 Homemade Drinks that Beat the Heat and Kick the Plastic
More sustainable happens to taste best!
Almost every non-alcoholic bottled beverage for sale in this country is packaged in either a plastic bottle or a plastic-lined can. Because this plastic packaging sheds microplastics into the drinks, when we consume the drinks, we consume the plastic.
How much plastic? This study found that water in a single-use plastic bottle contains 44 pieces of microplastic. While the study looked at bottled water only, I think we can safely assume that any drink packaged in plastic would contain microplastics. Tap water also contains ubiquitous microplastics but less than bottled water. And while scientists do not know how eating petrochemicals in solid form affects human health, I will take a wild guess that it’s not great for us.
Skip the plastic when you brew any of the refreshing drinks below.
To make lemonade, make a simple syrup, add fresh lemon juice, chill and enjoy. Scale the following proportions up or down:
4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar or to taste
1/2 cup lemon juice with or without pulp (about 4 lemons)
Boil water in a kettle (or make this in a pot). Combine 1 cup of the boiling water with the sugar in a large heat-resistant measuring cup or bowl. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add the remaining 3 cups of water and the lemon juice. Diluting the simple syrup this way cools the lemonade faster.
You could also carbonate this with a ginger bug—a starter you maintain similarly to a sourdough starter. A ginger bug matures in about five days, after which you maintain it to use on demand. Make the lemonade above and add some mature ginger bug to it. Bottle the drink, let it sit for a couple of days, chill and enjoy naturally bubbly lemonade. Or make limeade! Go here for the naturally carbonated lemonade recipe.
As with all ferments, sugar fuels the microbes that work the magic. The longer you ferment a drink, the less sugar it will contain.
Ginger bug sodas
If you do make that aforementioned ginger bug, use it to ferment other drinks, like sweetened herbal teas (which aren’t actually teas but that’s what we usually call them in the US and Canada). Brew some herbal tea, sweeten it, add the ginger bug starter to it after it has cooled, bottle it and wait a couple of days for a delicious bubbly drink. Go here for the instructions to make hibiscus soda. Swap out the hibiscus for peppermint or rosehips or another herbal blend.
This requires minimal money and effort to make. Brew strong tea. Allow it to cool. Serve it with lots of ice. I like mine with lemon and a bit of sweetener. My daughter Charlotte likes it unadulterated. It’s highly customizable.
If you want to avoid more plastic, choose loose-leaf tea to brew. Many tea bags contain plastic in the bag’s sealant. The paper of some brands of tea bags contains plastic. And in the case of “silky” synthetic bags, the bags are completely made of plastic. (Synthetic is plastic.)
Consumers pay a premium for these novel and supposedly upscale silk-like bags, one of which can shed billions of microplastics into a single cup of tea. Please do not buy these. According to The Guardian,
For context, a liter of water in a single-use plastic bottle contains 44 microplastic particles; a portion of mussels contains about 90; a kilogram of salt over 600. One study found we consume 70,000 particles annually just from the ambient dust that settles on our food.
The trickiest part of brewing this fermented tea is tracking down a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to ferment it. Once you have that, brew real tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, sweeten it, let it cool, backslop it with kombucha from a previous batch (or add a small amount of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with the live mother) and add the SCOBY. Wait about a week (it brews faster in hot weather). Taste. Bottle it when you like the flavor. Repeat the process.
To find a SCOBY, ask for one in your Buy Nothing Group if you belong to one. Search on Nextdoor or Craigslist. You also may be able to make one from very good store-bought kombucha. Pour a few inches of the kombucha into a jar, cover it with a cloth securely and wait. You should see a thin layer form on top of the kombucha after a few weeks. It doesn’t always work but it often does. Use the SCOBY after it has grown a few millimeters thick.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or visit and would like a SCOBY, email me and I will give you one of mine. My SCOBY, Etheldreda, has traveled all over the world and wants to see more of it but I’m a bit of a hermit so she needs a travel companion.
Mead is honey wine. Aristotle speaks of it. Beowulf drank it. Shakespeare mentions it. The simple recipe likely explains mead’s persistence throughout the ages. In a nutshell, you make mead as follows:
1. Dilute raw honey with water.
I drink mine young and don’t bother racking or finishing it—that’s more advanced and I’m impatient. Go here for the simple mead recipe.
If you want to quit soda and think you can’t, make this and never buy soda again. It works with other types of fruit also. It contains live cultures, like kombucha and any drink made with a ginger bug, but as with those, consider this soda a treat and not a health tonic.
You don’t need a starter to make this. The naturally occurring lactic-acid bacteria on the berries ferment this for you. If, like me, you simply cannot commit to another starter—like pets, they need regular care or will die—this fermented drink is for you (the next one on the list is also…).
Fruit scrap soda
This is similar to the recipe above but barely sweet and made with fruit scraps and peels—the stuff you ordinarily compost. Everyone I ply this with loves it and they can’t believe I make it with mere fruit scraps. If you’ve never fermented anything and feel a bit intimidated by it, you really have very little to lose with this one. It costs almost nothing to make and in very hot weather, ferments within a couple of days.
And of course, a glass of water is always a great choice!
As I typed this, the temperature outside hit 101°F, fitting for Show Your Stripes day, a day to creatively show your area’s warming stripes—via a button, a scarf you knit, your Zoom background—in order to spark conversations about climate change. Reduce planet-heating waste while you enjoy one of these beverages that also happen to taste delicious.