The growing nappy waste issue

Every day the UK sends 8 million nappies to landfill.

When we think about the keepsakes from our children’s early years, we think of holding on to first locks of hair, tiny shoes or footprints, but seldom do we think of saving their soiled nappies for the next 4 generations.  This is however the reality as there is a growing issue of nappy waste. According to WRAP, nappies make up 2 – 3% of household waste sent to landfill each year, and they can take up to 500 years to degrade.

Potty training is starting later and lasting longer

In the 1950s, 97% of children were toilet trained by the age of 3, however since 1951 and the invention of disposable nappies, the age at which children are potty training has perpetually increased, and at the age of 3 only 51% are fully potty trained.  The average age for potty training in 2010 was reported in an Australian study (The Restraint Project UNSW, Anna Donovan) as being 29 months. 

A 2013 study in the USA showed that at least a third of children were still in nappies at the age of three or older.  At How to Potty Train we surveyed over 1,100 parents and found that 86% started training between before age 3.  More than 1 in 10 was therefore still in nappies at 3. 

The introduction of the disposable nappy is often blamed for this trend

The introduction of the nappy is widely regarded to be a key factor in this trend for longer and later potty training.  Nappies are now very dry and comfortable for children and convenient for parents.  The first stage of potty training is understanding being wet when an accident has occurred, and nowadays nappies are so dry that it makes it difficult for children to become familiar with this feeling of wetness.  This can make potty training last longer while the child learns this awareness.  An unfortunate part of learning this while in grown up pants is that it results in more accidents, which means more mess and stress for parents. 

Accidents can be mistaken for meaning the child is not ready

Sometimes the accidents are regarded as a sign that the child is not ready, so the parent puts them back in nappies for a while longer.  This prolongs nappy use, and also means the habit of nappy wearing becomes more entrenched and harder to break.  One Health professional we work with says that after the child becomes physically able to potty train, the nappy switches from being a continence device to being a portable toilet. Kids very often like this idea as wearing a nappy means they don’t need to interrupt play to go to the toilet.

Different caregivers with different ways of teaching can confuse children

Parents have hectic lives and children are often looked after in different childcare settings throughout the week, and very often each person involved will have a different way of doing things, which can be confusing and can result in set backs. 

Potty training won’t just happen & there is a window of opportunity

Large nappy manufacturers are not helping by producing and selling larger nappies and developing pull up style nappies called training pants that are marketed for use during potty training, a time when nappies were traditionally removed.  These manufacturers recommend to parents on their website that ‘If it doesn’t seem to be working, take a break and try again in a few weeks or months. It will happen – just give it time.’

Potty training does not happen automatically, it is another life skill that requires the parent to intervene and help.  Furthermore, research carried out by Blum et al, has shown that starting before the age of two or after 3 results in it taking up to twice as long to complete. There is a potty training window of opportunity around the age of 2, but many parents are missing this, partly due to not recognising the signs that their child is ready.   


8 million nappies being thrown away every day in the UK. 90% of these go to landfill. 

The result is more and more nappies going to landfill

All these factors are resulting in 8 million nappies being thrown away every day in the UK. 90% of these go to landfill. The other 10% are incinerated, and there are now a couple of small nappy recycling plants in the UK including Nappicycle in Wales who have diverted over 20 million nappies from landfill over the last 12 months.  They recover the cellulose content and use it to manufacture panel boards, and the plastic content is sent on for secondary recycling.

The best way to help the environment is to start potty training as soon as your child is ready

This is a great step forward, however the best thing we can do for the environment is to reduce usage by starting potty training as soon as children are ready.  We fundamentally agree that potty training too early is in nobody’s interest but we believe that by following our potty training process it is possible to spot the signs that your child is ready as soon as possible, and that our simple stages and guidelines help potty train faster. 

Our advice to parents is to start looking for signs of readiness from the age of 2, and until they are ready you can put in place a good routine and teach them about what is expected during potty training.  You can join our potty training academy for free, and we will guide you through each step of the process. 

Share On:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *