Curating for Toddlers: The Case for a Healthier Sippy Cup

Is your toddler just about ready for their very first cup? What an exciting milestone! Now is the perfect time to seek out the safest sippy cup you can find for that sweet little one.

Or, shopping for an experienced sipper? It’s never too late to upgrade your child to a healthier cup.

But what comprises a safe sippy? Current evidence suggests that the healthiest cups won’t be made from plastic.

If that’s the case, why are so many parents (myself, at times, included) still choosing to purchase and use plastic products?

It’s a question I mull over often, pondering what is it about plastic that makes it just so…pervasive. Well, for starters, it’s everywhere you look; it’s affordable; it’s convenient.

And since parents have limited time and ever-increasing demands upon it, convenience often, and understandably, reigns supreme.

Reasons to Be Wary of Plastic

The body of evidence against plastic is mounting, and each new study seems to bear more bad news.

Worries regarding various plastic chemicals aren’t new; concerning studies have been emerging since the ’80’s. These two reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics, span twenty years, and address concerns of childhood exposure to several chemicals found in plastics, including phthalates, bisphenols, and others.

Studies suggest that phthalates disrupt the endocrine system, potentially resulting in a large range of damaging affects on fetal development, male fertility, and even childhood obesity.

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been identified as an endocrine disruptor too, with concerns including the chemical’s impact on childhood neurological development, puberty, fertility, and more.

Over the past eight years or so, many parents have likely noticed packaging touting claims of ‘BPA-Free’ plastic. This is likely in part because of the FDA’s 2010 decision to restrict the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in infant bottles and sippy cups.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers have simply replaced BPA with BPS (bisphenol S). A 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics Technical Report cites that early studies of bisphenol S (BPS) have identified “similar genotoxicity and estrogenicity to BPA.” And this even more recent 2019 study on mice, reports a decrease in cardiac function in females, shortly following exposure to BPS. Yikes!

These reports suggest we’ve simply swapped one nasty chemical for another (potentially worse one), and leave me inclined to say ‘No, thanks!’ to plastic.

There is more research to be done regarding exactly how myriad plastic chemicals impact human development. And it’s important to note that the aforementioned findings are being extrapolated from nonhuman laboratory studies or epidemiological studies. However, the more I read about the potential effects of plastics, the more my concerns grow. For me personally, the current evidence is already sufficient to motivate change.

Keeping It Real About Plastic

In case you are wondering…yes, there is plastic in this house — in fact, a good deal more of it than I wish.

When my first child was born, I had high hopes of creating a plastic-free oasis. Things started off so intentionally, but I gradually lost the battle to the endless onslaught of plastic toys and baby paraphernalia.

And honestly, is it even reasonable to attempt to create a completely plastic-free home?

There are many essential and beneficial items made from plastic, from car seats to medical equipment.

And then there are other, less essential plastic items that I still wish my children to experience, like LEGO sets.

I’ve accepted that I’m unlikely to succeed in attaining plastic perfection, but I still believe the pursuit of less plastic is a goal worthy of continual striving. So rather than focusing on perfection, I’m trying to focus on prioritizing.

And I hope to motivate others to strive for less plastic too! I think it’s important that we don’t give-up on seeking cleaner options, just because we can’t commit to a 100% plastic-free existence.

How do I prioritize with plastic? Here are some guidelines I strive to follow (emphasis on strive):

  • I try my darnedest to avoid plastic in the mouth (pacifiers, cups, eating utensils, teething rings, etc)
  • I prioritize avoiding plastic during the first year of life (opt for wooden rattles and blocks, books, fabric sensory toys, silicone teething rings, etc)
  • And I opt for plastic alternatives whenever I can find something functional and affordable

For now, let’s focus on that first goal, avoiding placing plastic in our children’s mouths.

Given some of the potential health concerns we’ve just discussed about plastic, this seems like an important place to begin.

The Plastic Dilemma: Obstacles to Upgrading

Based on my own experiences, I’ve identified three big reasons plastic often reigns supreme:

  1. Plastic Is Accessible: We don’t have time to research healthier alternatives
  2. Plastic Is Durable: We don’t want to risk spending money on something that won’t last
  3. Plastic Is Affordable: We can’t afford (or don’t wish to spend) the additional cost to upgrade

While these arguments appear initially compelling, the latter two break-down when we look beyond the present moment.

  1. Plastic Is Accessible: With regards to accessibility, plastic wins outright. No argument here, accept to offer my assistance. Since I’ve done the research for my own children, I’m hoping to help other busy parents by sharing my recommendations.
  2. Plastic Is Durable: Plastic is durable in the sense that it takes ages to biodegrade. But it also warps when heated, fades, absorbs color and odors, and cracks over time. So even if it’s more durable to a fall than something like glass, it really isn’t winning with regards to longevity. This means you will likely end up purchasing replacements, if not for your first little one, certainly for his or her younger siblings.
  3. Plastic Is Affordable: At face value, this is true. I just opened Target Online, and a single 8 ounce plastic sippy cup can be purchased for just $2.99! However, if we dig a little deeper, I think we can argue that, in the long run, plastic may not actually be saving us money. Here are the potential reasons why:
    1. Plastic is perceived as expendable: $2.99 is inexpensive, and I think many perceive inexpensive as ‘cheap.’ It we perceive something to be cheap, we may treat it accordingly. These sippy cups are probably more likely to befall a sad fate. They might be left in a car to mildew, forgotten at the park, and ultimately, are very likely to end up in a landfill.
    2. You probably bought more than one (Or two, or three…): Because plastic cups are inexpensive, we feel okay buying several (or lots and lots). The end result: cluttered drawers and cupboards, mismatched cups and lids, molded straws and mouthpieces.
    3. The toll on our environment is costly too: When we think about the long term implications of plastic, for adults as well, it’s important to remember that plastic may take a very long time to biodegrade, and recycling statistics aren’t as robust as one might expect. According to this epa report, in 2017, only 8.4% of total US plastics were recycled.
    4. Conclusion: While plastic sippy cups boast a smaller initial investment, they may ultimately end up costing us more.

Alternative Materials

So what are the alternatives to a plastic sippy cup? And can they really compete with what you are currently using?

Based on my research, the two healthiest alternatives to the plastic sippy are stainless steel and glass. Let’s take a closer look at both options

Stainless Steel:

  • How to Shop for Safe Stainless Options:
    • Look for food-grade steel marked 304, 18/8, (18% chromium and 8% nickel) or 18/10 (18% chromium and 10% nickel)
    • Purchase from a reputable company that tests products for lead
    • Avoid painted markings or decorations, as this paint is more likely to contain lead
    • Seek options with a food-grade silicone straw and spout to avoid plastic parts
  • Health Benefits:
    • No plastic chemicals leaching into water (free from phthalates, BPA, BPS, and hundreds of other plastic chemicals)
  • Potential Health Concerns:
    • I think it important to acknowledge that stainless steel isn’t perfect. I’ve come across studies and forums expressing concerns of stainless leaching it’s own version of nasty, in this case, metals such as nickel.
    • Reassuringly, in this study of stainless steel and liquids, no metal leaching occurred when testing distilled water or tea. Though the results for fruit juices suggest it best to avoid storing juices in stainless steel.
    • In contrast, this 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, demonstrates the potential for acidic foods like tomato sauce, heated for hours in stainless steel cookware, to result in the leaching of both nickel and chromium.
    • I find this second study concerning because I cook daily with stainless steel. I will be doing more research on stainless cookware to explore the depth of concern warranted, and to see if healthier alternatives are available. My preliminary research suggests that each cookware may have some drawbacks.
    • Ultimately, since we aren’t planning to simmer tomato sauce for 6-20 hours in these sippy cups, I think we can consider stainless steel to be more than adequately safe for drinking water, and exceedingly safer than chemical-leaching plastic alternatives.

Glass:

  • How to Shop for Safe Glass Options:
    • Many glass bottles or sippy cups will be made of borosilicate glass, a stronger glass, more likely to withstand falls and sudden changes in temperature; This type of glass incorporates boron trioxide and a small percentage of aluminum oxide.
    • Look for an outer sleeve made from silicone to provide grip and protection
    • Purchase from a reputable company that tests products for lead
    • Avoid painted markings or decorations, as this paint is more likely to contain lead
    • Seek options with a food-grade silicone straw and spout to avoid plastic parts
  • Health Benefits:
    • Glass is considered to be the safest, most inert material currently available
    • Where its durability permits, I recommend glass as the healthiest choice, and would love to see it used more in infant bottle feeding
    • Like stainless, there will be no chemicals leaching into water (free of phthalates, BPA, BPS, and hundreds of other plastic chemicals)
    • Additionally, as long as lead-free glass is selected, there won’t be potential concerns of leaching metals
  • Potential Health Concerns:
    • Despite digging, I couldn’t find studies reporting concerning data about chemicals or metals leaching from borosilicate glass
    • This 2020 article on Debra Lynn Dadd’s website, summarizes the results of a two-year study conducted by the UK’s Food Standard Agency, which concluded that borosilicate glass does not leach (even when scratched and tested with an acidic liquid)
    • Worthy of noting, this same study concludes that a less durable glass, known as Soda Lime Glass, might contain some lead that could leach in certain conditions, like when scratched or used with a highly acidic liquid. The article’s author suggests that the source of the lead might be the recycled glass sometimes incorporated into these products

Plastic Versus Stainless Steel & Glass

Now that we’ve examined the details of stainless steel and glass, let’s explore how these alternatives measure-up to plastic with regards to convenience.

  • Accessibility Winner: Plastic
    • As mentioned earlier, plastic still wins on the accessibility front. That said, more companies are emerging to meet parents’ growing demands for safer options. And there are currently several good options available that can be ordered directly from those companies, or through Amazon. Next week, I will be sharing my top product recommendations for this category!
  • Durability Winner: Stainless Steel
    • Stainless Steel: In my opinion, stainless easily wins this category. If purchased from a reputable company, it’s sure to withstand falls, heat, and rigorous washings. It may eventually dent, but it won’t fade, crack, warp, or absorb odors.
    • Glass: Glass comes in second to stainless with regards to durability. It has the longevity potential to outlast plastic, but only if handled with care. And since toddlers aren’t exactly known for their finesse, I primarily recommend its use with babies and older children.
  • Affordability Winner: Stainless Steel and Glass Tie (Better Long-Term Investments)
    • A cup made from these materials will cost more upfront, but I believe we can recoup our initial investment overtime.

Justifying the Cost of Higher Quality

By focusing on simplifying and prioritizing, we can afford to have products of better quality — just not a whole bunch of them.

But not having a whole bunch of something, can be better anyways; introducing…my Single Sippy Cup Strategy.

That’s right, folks! We are living large over here with a single sippy cup (and one back-up on deck).

The Single Sippy Strategy

Here’s why the Single Sippy Strategy is actually kind of brilliant:

It Keeps Tabs: If you have only one of something, it’s much easier to keep track of it! If it’s not in the sink, it should be in the cupboard, right? Not in either place? Time to start searching while we can still remember how to retrace our steps.

It Establishes Healthy Routines: The Single Sippy Strategy helps establish healthy and efficient habits. It forces a routine of bringing in cups right away, and washing them up each night. This saves us from the temptation to leave a cup in the car overnight…or what can easily roll into the many days and nights thereafter.

Simplifies & De-clutters: The Single Sippy Strategy simplifies our mornings. There’s no need to think about which cup to choose, or to waste time attempting to match up lids, straws, spouts, or handles. The mom-bonus in all this? No cluttered cabinets!

And while we use one primary cup, I still recommend having one back-up waiting in the wings. This relieves the stress of a cup that, despite best efforts, might still be forgotten at that play-date or at school.

Prioritizing a Safer Cup

I hope I’ve effectively pleaded the case for prioritizing a healthier sippy cup.

While plastic is certainly a tempting siren, alternative materials like stainless and glass have much to offer too. Not only are these materials healthier for both your little one and the environment, their durability and long-term affordability make them pragmatic competitors to plastics.

Next week, I’ll be curating my favorite sippy cup brands, so be sure to watch for that post if you or someone you know is in the market for a healthier choice. Until then, happy curating!

3 comments

  1. I recently switched to a silicone straw in E’s stainless water cup. I have never liked using a plastic one (even BPA free). I use a stainless straw, but I also worry about her poking her eye or otherwise impaling herself with a stainless one. So much to worry about! So the silicone straw is a good solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like a great solution for avoiding plastic parts for both you and her! Probably a wise decision to skip the stainless straw for E. It’s amazing how little ones can make such seemingly benign objects terrifying for mothers, isn’t it? That’s how I feel around toothbrushes. Maybe in a few more years we can upgrade them to stainless or glass straws…

      Like

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