Most of the United States has been sweltering this summer. We’ve all been seeking relief from the high temperatures. How we get that relief varies. Some people seal themselves in their homes in front of fans and air-conditioners. Going to the movies used to be a cheap way to enjoy the comforts of air-conditioning, but with ticket and snack prices rising almost as fast as the temperature, it’s not exactly an inexpensive alternative anymore. If you have access to a pool, alternating dips in the water with naps under the shade of an umbrella is a refreshing option. For a low-cost, do-it-yourself cool down technique there is always the garden hose. Running through a sprinkler kills two birds with one stone; you cool off while watering the garden. These are all great options to beat the heat, but because of the large consumption of water and electricity, they can have a negative effect on the environment.
Eating ice cream, however, is a sound eco-friendly way to cool off during the summer.* If I scream; you scream and we all scream for ice cream, together we have an opportunity to make a big impact on the environment. Regardless of the flavor, it is important to make an ecological choice for your ice cream delivery system. According to my completely unscientific calculations, eating an ice cream cone is the most eco-friendly method of ice cream delivery.
*It may be a refreshing way to cool off, but there are caloric and nutritional consequences to consider.
A cup of ice cream* – This is the least eco-friendly ice cream delivery system. Eating ice cream from a cup is the preferred method for banana splits and hot fudge sundaes because they contain all manner of toppings both gooey and solid. However, those cups eventually wind up in landfills. The plastic spoon used to shovel the ice cream into your mouth also winds up in a landfill and will be there long after the summer heat subsides.
* Eating ice cream from a reusable bowl with a reusable spoon is kinder to the environment, but that is not always an option at ice cream shops and roadside ice cream stands.
Popsicles and other stick based ice cream treats – This option is more eco-friendly than having a cup of ice cream. The plastic that the treat comes wrapped in isn’t biodegradable, but it is less plastic than a cup and spoon. Popsicle sticks are made from wood and are biodegradable. Before you run out to stock up on stick based treats, consider the idea that somewhere in a forest a tree gave its life to become those Popsicle sticks.
Disclaimer: Many stick based treats come via an ice cream truck that drives down the street blasting music that hypnotizes small children to run screaming from their homes waving tiny fistfuls of dollar bills. The emissions from the ice cream truck offset any environmental benefits from having a wooden stick ice cream delivery system.
Ice cream sandwiches – This option is a step above the stick based frozen treat. The only environmental impact associated with ice cream sandwiches is the wrapper. (see above disclaimer for ice cream truck delivered treats)
Ice cream cones* – Be they wafer or sugar, ice cream cones are the most environmentally friendly ice cream delivery system. Having ice cream in a cone does not require a spoon, only your tongue. You can still enjoy toppings like sprinkles or dips without having to sully the environment with those plastic cups and spoons. When you have finished consuming the ice cream, you eat the delicious delivery mechanism leaving no trash for a landfill.
*Waffle cones and bowls are an exception. The ice cream container is edible, but requires the use of a utensil. If that utensil is reusable, dig in and enjoy without the guilt of impacting the environment with yet another plastic spoon.
Before you reach for your air-conditioner or garden hose to cool off this summer, consider future generations and go get yourself ice cream in a cone. Eat it quickly though. In this heat, it will melt and drip down your hands. If that happens, you’ll need paper napkins which would detract from the ice cream cone’s environmental friendliness. Of course, if you are really committed to protecting the environment, you could just lick your fingers and wipe them on your shirt.