Potty training age in the US and how it effects the environment

As the US Potty Training Age Grows the Environment Goes!

The potty training age and its effect on the environment

  A recent article on a parenting science website, Dr. Gwen Dewar examined the available research to determine the best time to toilet train a child. She determined that there was not a significant amount of research that indicates the best time to potty train. She didn't know that based on numerous studies around the world 50% of other countries, toilet-train children by the age of 12 months. In America aged much later at an average of 36-35 for girls and 39 months for boys other sources put the average age even later at an age of 3 1/2 years 42 months, short diaper facts and statistics average cost of a diaper


    Dr. Dewar notes in the article some of the pivotal events and periods in history that help explain the growing age of toilet training in the US over the past century. In the 1920s and 1930s or US government urged parents to impose original toilet training regimens on children before they took the first step. In 1932, the US government recommended. The parents start toilet training their children immediately after birth and by 6 to 8 months the child is expected to be completely trained. One government manual, instructor parents to enforce absolute regularity of bowel movements by inserting, a substick in the infant, rectum a precise times of the day (United States, Department of Labor, 1935). Other prevalent tactics of the time included scolding, and physical punishments for accidents(Hushka1942: Stendler 1950: Luxem and Christophersen 1994.) Needless to say, early potty training, got a bad reputation because it was associated with such a harsh or coercive training message, sometimes even abusive Dr. Dewar noted.

     As one would expect in response to such a harsh unforgiving position child development researchers adopted, toilet training should start only when the child can actively cooperate with the process(Brazelton et al 1999). Strict timetables that were once commonplace for potty training were abandoned. Instead, parents were encouraged to let their children's “spontaneous truly a curiosity”, set the pace. After World War two, the medical establishment began to reject early potty training out of concern that psychological damage was inflicted. Freudian psychologists argued that early, rigid training led to emotional problems and neurosis later in life. Further, pediatricians, like Benjamin, Spock, and T. Berry Brazelton warned that pressure in children may lead to a variety of troubles, such as storing, withholding, dual toileting, refusal, regression, and bedwetting. (Lieberman 1972; Brazelton 1962: Brazelton and Sparrow 2004). This change in position towards a more forgiving tamed potty training. Regiment was certainly a dramatic shift from past practices, and surely saved many children from harsh potty training, messages, and mental and physical abuse of years past.

     The next great event that had a profound effect on extending the potty training age was in 1948 Johnson and Johnson introduced the disposable diaper and in 1961 Procter & Gamble began mass producing the disposable diaper as it began to gain traction. In 1968 Kimberly Clark entered the market with their disposable diaper and kicked off the diaper wars. As each of the major manufacturers fought for their share of this lucrative new niche. Huggies from Procter & Gamble and Pampers from Kimberly. Clark soon took the lead in this market and has remained the leader for the past five decades. Over that time. The disposable diaper has seen substantial improvement and fit and performance diapers become lighter and weight and more absorbent which keeps babies dryer longer and allows mothers to keep babies in diapers even longer. With babies being more comfortable longe manufacturers begin adding larger diaper sizes and styles to accommodate older, larger kids and further encourage parents to delay the age at which toilet training was initiated.

     On the website: godiaperfree.com, the author Ruthann Drummond discusses the “Readiness Myth” that was promoted along with the advent of the disposable diaper by the Chairman of the Pampers Institute. The Readiness Campaign was widely accepted by many physicians and childcare experts of the day as the medical establishment of the time, wanted to distance themselves from the rigid, harsh, and often abusive potty training practices of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Of course, the goal was to keep children in diapers longer which sold more diapers. Of course, the potty training age in the US grew from an average of 12 months of age children were toilet trained to over 24 months, and now 36 months is the average potty training age in the US.

          Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend that parents begin potty training at 18 months of age. As long as the child is interested. There is some evidence that waiting past 24 months of age to train can lead to urological issues and daytime wettings. Many experts claim that as the child gets older, the process becomes more difficult. The longer parents wait to potty train. Contrary to a common mess among parents, there is no evidence to potty potty training too early. Does any psychological damage to the child There have not been any scientific studies that link toilet training age with emotional disorders (Fisher and Greenberg). The bottom line according to available research it is better to potty train early than later with little evidence that training early has any drawbacks, besides, possibly taking longer to train a child starting at a very young age.   

           While there has been controversy surrounding the time to initiate toilet training for a child,  there is little disagreement over one major aspect of potty training. The environmental impact disposable diapers have on the planet.  It has been well documented that it takes more than 500 years for a disposable diaper to break down in landfills, with suggestions that it is in fact, much longer since it would take 500 years if the diaper were exposed to the environment and oxygen. But in most situations, diapers, are not exposed to the environment, but sit beneath layers of other garbage which prevents them from getting oxygen, which is needed to promote decomposition.

           The environmental impact in the US from diaper manufacturing and waste is summarized in the following table:



One diaper

One baby

Annually 3000 diapers

Lifetime 6000 diapers

All babies US 11 million diapers



6 to 8 / day


6000 to 7500

20 Billion


8 ounces

48 to 64 ounces/ day

188 gallons

375 gallons

2.068 billion gallons


545 liters/144 gal

Aprox 1000 gal / day

1.635 m liters/ 432k gals

3.27 B liters/863k gals

252 billion gallons


50-70 grms

400 to 560 grms/ day

1.5 trees

200-400kg or 4.5 trees

250,000 trees





40- 50 lbs

220 million gallons




1 ton


3.6 million tons to 11 million tons

          Clearly, the situation is dire when it comes to the environmental effects that 20 Billion diapers each year in the US are deposited in landfills or other means of waste handling, especially when considering that it takes more than 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose in ideal circumstances, which is rarely the case in landfills under layers of waste without exposure to other elements. The amount of raw materials used to manufacture these diapers is staggering including crude, wood stock, water, and chlorine among others.

     There are projects around the world aimed at a sustainable diaper alternative such as compostable diapers, eco-friendly diapers made from bamboo and cotton, and even a road being paved with diaper waste. diapers used to pave roads and several eco-friendly diapers made from bamboo. While there are some promising startups in the diaper alternative niche, higher costs and an inability to scale have limited the adoption of many of these products.

     Until a viable diaper alternative scales for widespread commercial use, there is one obvious area that the US can adopt to limit the damage we contribute to the planet. Since it has been noted and widely accepted that more than half of the world potty trains by the age of 12 months, the US should consider adopting a more proactive attitude toward potty training at an earlier age. Just a few generations back most children in the US were potty trained by 12 months of age as it was encouraged by our government for parents to initiate potty training soon after birth. My own grandmother (I am 54 years old) and all of her sisters were toilet trained by 1 year of age much like the other children of her generation. My grandmother toilet-trained her children close to the same age she and her sisters were trained, before 12 months of age. Is there something that the earlier generations possessed that allowed them to toilet train at younger ages or is there something lacking in current generations?

     If the US adopted the same mindset and potty trained at the same age we trained just a few generations back, all of the numbers above would be reduced by 67%. That’s 67% less waste and less raw materials such as crude oil, water, wood, and chlorine stripped from the earth as well as producing only 1/3 of the waste we currently deposit on our planet. It seems that it is a small price to pay to have such a positive impact on the planet and at the very least do our part to contribute no more than our foreign counterparts in the amount of damage we inflict on the earth. Are there any reason parents should not want to potty train their children at a younger age other than the convenience factor of allowing kids to stay in diapers longer. The cost saving coupled with saving the planet for the very children who will be trained earlier should motivate any parent to consider adopting a more proactive stance towards early toilet training.

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