Alternatives to plastic cups

The Art and Science of Alternatives to Plastic in Dishware

By Manasa Mantravadi



Time to Read: 13 min

Alternatives to Plastic Dishware

We have heard for the past decade how plastic waste is harming our environment, but now we also know that it is harming our health. Scientific research has been down this road before and now history repeats itself. Everyone on TV used to smoke, and then we realized it’s really bad for your lungs. We used lead in paint, until we realized that it affected a child’s cognitive development. 

Now the magnifying glass is on plastic. Science shows us that man-made chemicals in plastic are now found in all humans and disrupting our health. In particular, harming the hormone system - which is critical for a child’s growing body and brain. (For the record, these chemicals shouldn’t be circulating inside the human body). The issue extends far beyond the home as well, with most schools using plastic trays as opposed to stainless steel trays, the importance of which becomes more clear as you discover the problems that plastic dishware creates.

As we uncover the unsettling truth about plastics, disrupting essential hormonal functions critical for the development of children—the need for safe, non-toxic alternatives to plastic becomes glaringly apparent. The transition to stainless steel offers a clear solution to the plastic crisis. This shift not only aligns with my professional duty as a pediatrician to protect children from harmful substances, but also resonates with my personal convictions, drawing from a childhood where stainless steel dishware at the dining table in India was the norm—a tradition that perfectly covers both personal and environmental health concerns.

About Ahimsa

Founded by a pediatrician and mom of three

Stainless steel is the only kid-friendly material recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics 

We are guided by a Scientific Advisory Council comprised of environmental and medical experts, guiding us in creating the safest products, following the latest science and promoting policy to protect human health and our planet

Want to know more? Check out our story and our products

Why Use Stainless Steel as an Alternative to Plastic Dishware?

It’s no mystery why stainless steel is recommended by 67,000 doctors as the material of choice when dining. It’s been around for a long time and studied for its effects on human and planetary health. Clearly, the verdict is that it is a great material that is better for health and the environment. It is why you see it everywhere in hospitals and commercial kitchens. My job as a pediatrician is to advocate for kids, so I felt compelled to start a company that is rooted in science to keep harmful chemicals off the dining table since almost all the dishware and drinkware that are made for kids and found on the shelves is made of plastic. I grew up eating and drinking from stainless steel as it is the material of choice in India for the dining table so this felt like a no-brainer.

However, on my journey, I quickly understood the laxity of regulation for many food-related products. Today, there are more than 10,000 additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many were carried over from the 1950s, and several have no research showing they are safe for people to eat or drink. So, I set out to work with scientists, physicians, legislators and environmentalists to set a new standard for children’s products. To advocate for the safety and quality of products we bring into our home and give to our kids. When I created Ahimsa, I knew stainless steel was the dinnerware material of choice in India and now that of scientists -  so let’s get into why that is the case!

The Benefits of Stainless Steel as an Alternative to Plastic

Non-toxic and Free From Harmful Chemicals

At the heart of Ahimsa's mission lies the choice of material – stainless steel. I took an oath to avoid harm when I first became a physician, then as a mom and now when creating my company, Ahimsa. We keep this in mind with everything we do - avoiding harm for not only children’s health but also for the one planet we all call home. 

Unlike many other materials used in dinnerware, stainless steel dishware does not leach harmful substances into food, even when subjected to heat or acidic conditions. This is particularly crucial for children, as their developing bodies are more susceptible to the effects of toxins. Although glass and stainless steel are both doctor-recommended materials, stainless steel is the only non-breakable option. (And we know that children love to test gravity! Let’s cut them some slack because this cause and effect of dropping items is actually a normal development stage in infancy and the early toddler years!)

To further assure our customers, we conduct a full composition analysis of our products, partnering with third-party labs certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The results unequivocally confirm that Ahimsa products contain no lead or any other heavy metals listed on the World Health Organization (WHO) toxic metals list. Safety is paramount, and we adhere to the most stringent food contact safety guidelines globally. Since the FDA regulations for food were so lax compared to European standards - I created Ahimsa’s testing protocol based on the much tighter regulations in the European Food Safety Authority, knowing they would be well within FDA regulations.

As a pediatrician-founded company, the health and safety of children are our top priorities. Ahimsa is proud to be the only dishware company that holds the prestigious MADE SAFE certification. This certification is a testament to our unwavering commitment to providing families with dinnerware that is free from harmful substances. If you’re looking for non-toxic plates for toddlers, children, teenagers or adults, we knew that only the safest product would be one to catch your eye, even if the captivating colors didn’t. 

Ahimsa is not just about creating safe and sustainable products for families; it's about advocating for change across the industry. We believe in transparency, accountability and better oversight. Our commitment to safety extends beyond our brand, and we actively support initiatives and legislation that hold all brands accountable for the materials used in their products.

An Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic

Stainless steel emerges as the best and safest choice for the environment due to its unparalleled combination of durability, recyclability, and minimal environmental impact. Unlike disposable or single-use materials, stainless steel has a lifespan that extends over generations, reducing the overall demand for resource-intensive manufacturing. Its inherent corrosion resistance means it requires little to no protective coatings, further minimizing environmental pollution. 

Stainless steel is fully recyclable, allowing it to be repurposed indefinitely without compromising its structural integrity. This characteristic aligns seamlessly with the growing global focus on sustainability and circular economies. Unlike plastics that degrade into harmful microplastics, stainless steel, as an alternative to plastic dishware, does not release toxic substances during its lifecycle, ensuring the preservation of ecosystems. Its resilience to extreme temperatures and resistance to corrosion also contribute to a reduction in maintenance needs, diminishing the environmental footprint associated with constant replacements. As the world navigates towards eco-conscious choices, stainless steel stands as a beacon of environmental responsibility, offering a robust and sustainable alternative for a healthier planet.

Of note - Ahimsa does not actively source new steel to make our products. We use recycled steel! It was important to me to minimize any and all impact during the lifecycle of making products - from creation to final disposal - I wanted to protect Mother Earth in every way we could.

Our Coloring Process

Ahimsa dishes stand out not just for their functionality but also for their vibrant colors. Have you ever wondered how our dishes get these beautiful colors? The answer lies in the innovative process of Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD).

PVD is a technique that alters the color of titanium, giving our dishes their captivating rainbow shades. This is actually the same process used for medical implants, which is where I first saw it! Not only does this process create beautiful, engaging stainless steel dinnerware, but it also adds an extra layer of durability to the stainless steel. The colors are not just superficial; they become an integral part of the material, ensuring that your Ahimsa dishes remain as vibrant as the day you first brought them home.

We understand the responsibility that comes with producing consumer goods. Our commitment to sustainability extends beyond the choice of materials to the very processes that shape our products. The PVD process is a closed-loop system, meaning it operates in a self-contained environment without producing toxic runoff into the surrounding ecosystems. This ensures that our vibrant dishes leave a minimal environmental footprint. In every sense of the word, we want to be as eco-friendly as possible, and the PVD process is no exception. 

To reinforce our dedication to safety and environmental consciousness, Ahimsa has established a Scientific Advisory Council comprising the world's leading experts and scientists in toxicology, environmental health, and chemistry. This esteemed council guides us to ensure that our products and processes are not only safe for children but also environmentally responsible.

Intentionally Designed

Ahimsa dishes are more than simply dishes; they are road maps for healthy eating, designed to provide a safer and more sustainable option for families. We recognize the importance of instilling healthy eating habits in children from an early age. To assist parents in this journey, we've created mealtime guides that align with our dishes.

The round bowl in our Mindful Mealtime set, intentionally designed to be 1 cup, serves as a practical tool for families to create healthy portions and variety in their meals. The Balanced Bite Plate included in the set acts as a visual roadmap and teaching tool, guiding children toward healthy eating habits. Food is medicine. Food is health. And how we teach our children about healthy eating habits early on is one of the best investments you can make in their long-term health.

Mealtime Essentials

Designing Ahimsa Dishes

Many people have asked, how are Ahimsa dishes different from the dishes so commonly used in India? As an Indian, I grew up using stainless steel dishes. So when designing Ahimsa dishes there are three major changes that I wanted to focus on. 

What Sets Ahimsa Plates Apart from Standard Stainless Steel Plates

Encouraging healthy habits early 

The first is the way I intentionally designed all Ahimsa dishes to be real tools to encourage and simplify healthy eating. As a Doctor, my job is not only to treat people when they are sick, but also to give them the resources and guidance to keep them healthy. One major way to do so is through proper nutrition. 

Our compartment plate is not just a plate, it serves as a map to guide healthy eating. Which is why I also designed mealtime guides for each age group to make it even more simple! Every size of each dish is intentionally designed to make healthy eating easier. 

Healthy eating habits are especially formed during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. It is incredibly important to begin teaching children about age-appropriate portions, healthy eating, new flavors, and what to avoid as this truly will set habits that will carry through adulthood. Our round plates were actually designed to be 9 inches to encourage healthier portions as the surface area of an average US dinner plate has increased by 36% since 1960. 

Giving children larger portions than they need can often result in picky eating as their little bellies are not ready for that amount of food OR a bunch of unnecessary mealtime fights over forcing them to eat. Overall, our dishes encourage children and adults to understand what and roughly how much people should be eating at each stage of life! I, along with many other parents eat off of Ahimsa plates as well because they truly help make healthy eating simpler. 

Engaging children at mealtime

The next reason was to create dishware that would engage children. If you engage your child during mealtime, they will be more inclined to eat what you are feeding them. This is a science-based approach to children’s development as well as something I have firsthand experience with as a mom to three little ones. The shiny mirror finish and fun colors that we use on our dishes make for an engaging experience, kids love them and don’t want to use anything else. Ahimsa dishes truly are a modern, colorful twist on a traditional Indian classic.

Ensuring quality products and ethical manufacturing 

Lastly, I wanted to design Ahimsa dishes so that I could prioritize quality. Ahimsa dishes are made from 100% recycled high-quality stainless steel. When I started learning about the manufacturing process of typical stainless steel dishes it became evident that other manufacturing processes were not regulated as much as you might expect. So, I set out to create a clean and green product from start to finish, free from all harmful chemicals with no plastics used at any point- even our packaging. It was also important to me to treat everyone who makes Ahimsa with the utmost respect. After all, the workers on the lines work hard to meet our stringent standards to ultimately - protect kids. Our motto at Ahimsa? “For the kids!”

After all, people and the planet are connected and the lasting impact between the two will be felt not by us, but by our children. 

Ahimsa is not just a business to me - it’s a chance to change the system, change our thinking, and take actionable steps to make a positive impact on the world.

Come join our mission to create a cleaner, greener, healthier family mealtime!

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

More Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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