Kid cups in restaurants… disposables? Really?

Warning: This is a pet peeve moment!

I’ve told you about my annoyance with seemingly responsible restaurants and coffee shops serving up oodles of Styrofoam cups and how my own to-go cup solved that dilemma.  I shared my frustration with take home containers (yes, also often Styrofoam!) and my epiphany when I realized that we don’t need to accept them (when often times aluminum foil will do).

But now I have a new peeve in need of resolution… disposable kid’s cups in restaurants and this belief that, somehow, they need to be disposable so the kids can take them home.  Now, I ask you, as a parent… do you NEEEED more of these cups?  I’m betting ‘no.’  Do you choose your restaurant based on who’s dealing the coolest kid’s cup?  Again, I’m betting no.  Do your kids even care?  If they’re like mine, nope… they don’t.

So, why, why, WHY all the disposable (and often un-recyclable content) cups?!  Why don’t restaurants give kids cups that are left behind, WASHED and used again?  I mean I don’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant and they said “here lady… you keep the glass!”  (Unless of course it was one of those monstrous plastic tiki bowls with six paper umbrellas and a straw shaped like a palm tree, purchased during a happy-hour/ladies night frenzy!… okay, I’ve never really had these {too frou-frou for me}, but I’ve seen them!)

I don’t know the environmental impact specifically for these cups, yet we all know a lot of plastic is bad news:  resources used, energy to produce them, landfill space, gasses produced, etc.

So why am I picking on something as little as kids’ plastic cups in restaurants?  Well, it just seems like logical math to me. There are approximately 240,000 full-service restaurants in the US alone (these are the ones with wait-staff).  On average, if every restaurant gave out just 30 cups a day, that’s 2,628,000,000 in one year!  Imagine… over 2.5 BILLION cups?!? That’s SO unnecessary.  Little things add up to big problems, so when the problem could be avoided, I’m annoyed.

Since I don’t own a restaurant or know anyone who does, and it’s not likely their practices will change anytime soon, the only thing I’m thinking I can do is bring our own kids’ cups and ask them to fill it, right?  And that’s exactly what I think I’m going to do!

(And if anyone has a boatload of money they’d like to give me to develop a cup cover that I just dreamed up in my head {that will turn any reusable cup into a kids cup}, please email me!..) 🙂

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18 thoughts on “Kid cups in restaurants… disposables? Really?

  1. I totally understand and I agree BUT I actually like those cups. My daughter is 5 and they are the perfect size for her. The glasses we have at home a bit heavy for her so these cups are a great intermediate step for her. We have at least 6 or 7 of them. We use them for 1) drinking in the house 2) drinking on the road (with lid and straw) 3) one is a pencil holder 4) a water holder for painting (me and her) 5) one is used in our Salt container for outside 6) used them for a mini golf course inside and outside 7) she’s scheming to plant flowers in it this spring and 8) one was added to the beach supplies for a scoop. See what I mean?? For us, its Reusing…. Since the cups were made and throwing them out is out of the question… lets reuse them for Crafting, or art! The 5 year old is pretty crafty for reusing already.

  2. Mel H – that is GREAT! Sincerely! It’s so good to know that others think about this too. We have put ours to use, but sometimes it’s overwhelming when every dine-out trip means two more cups. And my concern is not so much with you and me – the GREEN, environmentally-conscious moms – but with so many others who leave them & they get thrown out or take them, and trash them anyway!. Way to go green! 🙂

  3. This is such a great point, it seems that every restaurant does this now…I think in part to make themselves look ‘kid-friendly.’ And, honestly, it’s bothered me but I’ve never thought to actually try and intercept the stupid cup before it comes (I’m just getting in practice to intercept the plastic bagging frenzy at Target when I’m checking out there!). It’s there before you can even say ‘boo.’

    My son, who’s now almost 4, hasn’t used a covered cup at home since he was 2. (Tip: Ikea makes these small, super sturdy, drop on the floor without breaking, glass juice glasses.) Why on earth does he need a covered cup at a restaurant? It’s a 50/50 shot the cheap cover stays on if it tips anyway. It’s almost easier for me to control a regular (albeit smaller scale) cup than a stupid, lightweight, tippy plastic one.

    Sorry, my point…we should just be asking for regular glasses. And you’re right, for the really little ones…bring your own sippy cup.

  4. RecycleBill – oh, believe me… I know that. I was an Advertising Exec. at an ad agency in my “previous life”! It is often about marketing, but the thing is, a lot of these cups aren’t branded… they are just generic with dinosaurs, space scenes, and goofy characters!

  5. Pingback: Inhabitots » Inhabitots Blog Picks of the Day

  6. NOTE TO ALL: We went out to dinner this weekend for our son’s birthday… and I DID bring our own cups!… The look from the waitress was slightly odd, but oh well! I kept my promise to myself… and no guilt in the end!

  7. Cambro Manufacturer is offering a new Kid’s lid program which the program includes a reusable tumbler with a disposable lid. This reduces the amount of waste dramatically. It also offers the restaurants savings and it gives the wait staff and customers the ability to see what is in the hard plastic tumbler. Who really needs additional cups in the cupboard.

  8. I actually work in the industry (23 years) that makes plastic kids cups so here’s some insight. Yes it has a lot to do with marketing. The cup it’s self is a walking billboard for the restaurant but restaurant operators are also very focused on their guests experience. Anything they can do to engage and entertain the little ones increases the overall dining experience for everyone. This is why you typically see placemats with games printed on them, crayons, coloring books, toys etc, it’s for the enhanced dining experience. The practical side of plastic kids cups for the restaurant operator is a reduction of spills, portion control and elimination of glassware breakage, all of which lead to operational savings, which in turn helps keep menu prices down for the consumer. The practical side for the consumer is really good, you get a reusable cup to use again and again for your kids. Injected-molded (the heavier ones) cups are made from polypropelyene which is very recyclable. Also over the years the industry has done a lot to reduce the amount of plastic container in each cup, they’ve been down-gauged. Plastic manufacturing in general is also very energy efficient and has a low carbon footprint as compared to other substrates. Bottom line, the objectives of “recycle – reduce – reuse” is acheived with these types of cups. So my advice to others is, take advantage of the opportunity, take the “free cup” home, “reuse” it a number of times (top rack diswasher safe) and at the end of the products usefulness “recycle” it by putting it in recycling bin. All in all a “green” value proposition. Cheers!

  9. Tupperware makes absolutely terrific alternatives to resteraunt waste with their flat out bowl that can be put in your purse for left overs or the dripless tumblers for the kiddos. With their lifetime gaurantee it makes it very cost effective also.

  10. i would love to buy some of these cups. right now I use the take and toss but I got a cup from Olive Garden and i loved it. i loved the size, the straw part and the sturdiness of it. And that if it got nasty i could throw it away. We have a new puppy and well she got a hold of my precious olive garden cup. i wish we ate out more so i could just get the cups.

  11. I for one have been very grateful for the kids cups. First of all, it makes my kids feel special to be given their own special cupin restaurants. Secondly, having these cups at home has kept me from having to buy small cups for the kids. My six year old is too big for a sippy cup, but is a bit clutzy so the lids are very helpful. My three year old feels like a big boy when he to gets to use a “big kid” cup, which I couldn’t let him do if I didn’t have the cups with lids. When I started to get cups in excess, I stored some of them, and use them as replacements when a cup cracks, or gets really cruddy looking. The kids enjoy having a variety to choose from, and I enjoy having less messes to clean up.

  12. Chuck – I sure don’t need more! 🙂

    Chris – thanks for the insider insight!

    Jessica – that sounds like a great alternative!

    Leah & Marie – I absolutely respect that both of you make great use out of the cups you are given, but my concern is that for every one of “you”, there are probably a hundred moms who end up tossing them out or leaving them behind, only to have them turn into waste! But, please, keep up the great “reuse!” 🙂

  13. I just opened a new vegetarian restaurant and am struggling with this. I want it to be as green as possible. I haven’t gotten these cups and have some staff who think they are essential. We’ve had a few spilled milks as a result of not having them. The solution I was going to try to engineer was a plastic reuseable glass (like a pizza hut soda glass thingie) with a disposable top that you can put a straw in. I saw them at the restaurant supply store. This setup is used for hospitals and nursing homes mostly, I guess. I didn’t do it yet because getting a case of just the lids was expensive and it was a case of 2000. It would take us a long time to go through that many. Might try to hook up with another restaurant to see if they want to go in on a case together. Anyway, I’m glad people are thinking about this issue. I just happened onto this site because I was searching for a solution!

  14. Okay, I own a couple family pizza joints…

    1. My cups are not branded… so its not about Marketing…
    2. Do you all realize that these things are ridiculously expensive… any restaurant that didn’t have to buy them would gladly not do so, myself included.
    3. They provide a service – moms, who don’t bring their own (not a reality on which you could count on… but we would love it) appreciate something that prevents spills and is small enough that the child doesn’t pour it in their lap.
    4. They save me thousands of $ a year in carpet cleaning… and believe me parents that have kids that trash your restaurant almost never tip appropriately…
    5. Using washable kid cups is an option but not a good one… they all look so beat up and disgusting after a few uses… and as a parent I will admit that it just feels cleaner when my kids get something I know has not been used before… I have a 2 and 3 year old… we only use glass at home so I hate plastic…

  15. Samuel – I understand your points completely, especially the need for cups with lids, but my point is also to make a suitable choice that is also eco-friendly. These heavy plastic cups that restaurants use are most often made of unrecyclable plastics that will live-on in landfills for hundreds upon hundreds of years contaminating soil and water. If they are expensive wouldn’t it be comparable in cost to choose biodegradable cups like those made of corn and other plant based materials? Consider these or these They seem to meet your criteria but don’t create an environment problem. Thoughts? And truly, as a restaurant owner, thanks for your comments!

  16. Hi, my company (The Family Hospitality Group) manufactures products like kids cups and crayons under the Classy Kid brand name. We can make these any which way, but the cost often gets very high very fast when the best new materials are used. I would like to ask everyone reading this for your thoughts about the ideal disposable (i.e. guaranteed sanitary) kids cup material. There are some nice corrugated paper cups that are easy to grip. There are PLA-coated papers. There are starch-based plastics. Then there’s the old standard rugged polypropylene recyclable cup. Parents and restaurant personnel only, please!

    We probably can’t change an industry ourselves but we can try! With a good design, good value, and years of pushing we can at least make a dent. Thanks in advance!

  17. I was researching cups for my restaurant and ran across a product from It is a 8 ounce glass mason jar with a hole for the straw in the top of a screw on lid. The size is small enough for a child to use and we can wash and reuse them over and over. Pricey as 42.00 for 12 but if they get broken I can just replace the jar and recycle the glass.

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