It all began with a text chain. Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, a board-certified pediatrician and mom of three young children, was corresponding with friends — other doctors and moms — about the latest developments in medical research when someone on the chain asked, “Have you guys heard about this announcement from the American Academy of Pediatrics saying that plastic is bad for kids?”
The question kicked off Dr. Mantravadi’s big lightbulb moment. “I had actually grown up with stainless steel. It was the material of choice in India, and my mom had said to me once, looking at the few plastic items I had in my house, ‘What are you doing? Plastic is bad for you!’ and she replaced all the plastic in my cupboards with traditional Indian dishes right away,” Dr. Mantravadi laughs.
“Using stainless steel is the norm in other parts of the world, but it’s not the norm here in America,” she says. “My worlds collided: my work as a pediatrician, my background as an Indian immigrant, and my role as a mom. Why can’t we just offer this material for the American parent?”
Thus, began her journey to founding Ahimsa, which provides stainless steel dinnerware for kids. The products are a healthy, sustainable alternative to plastic plates and cups.
“We’ve always known that plastic is bad for the planet. But in the last three years, the amount of info saying that plastic is bad for us has boomed,” Dr. Mantravadi says. “Big organizations are releasing info saying this — The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Endocrine Society, The World Health Organization. These are significant organizations saying that plastic is adversely affecting children, leaching endocrine disrupting chemicals that interfere with kids’ hormones, growth and brain development. It’s time that we change what we use.”
The good news is, making small changes can lead to a huge impact. “I want to educate parents and then empower them,” Dr. Mantravadi says. “You are going to have exposure to plastic — that is just the world we live in. But if we start making these small changes, we can see a big difference.”
This difference could also lead to changes in industry practices. Greater than 80 percent of children’s feeding products are made of plastic, a material that is cheaper to make than it is to recycle. “Less than 10 percent of worldwide plastic is recycled, but stainless steel is the most recyclable material in the world, and it can be infinitely recycled at a low cost,” Dr. Mantravadi says.
“As a pediatrician, my job is to take care of children and empower families to live a healthy life,” she says. “The plates are all metal. There is no paint, no toxic chemicals. We used chemistry and physics to change the color of the stainless steel.” The dinnerware is also made to last, an approach that flies in the face of traditional business models.
“I felt compelled to find a solution to the problem with plastic,” Dr. Mantravadi says. “I didn’t sit back and think, here’s a great business idea. I think this change, using stainless steel, can have a bigger impact globally. What are some of the things you can do as a parent to make a difference? The dinner table can be a good place to start.”