We in America are proud of our uniqueness. Whether it's shunning the metric system, calling football (or is it futbol?) soccer, or converting really good British TV shows into mediocre domestic ones (ok, not the Office, but remember Coupling?), we have no problem telling the world: "No thank you. Piss off, we'll do it our way." And we swagger like cowboys off into our sunset.
That difference extends to when we potty train our kids. Whereas most parents in the U.S wait to train children somewhere between age 2 and 4 years, around the world, children are generally toilet trained at a much earlier age--often under a year of age, as my cousin's son, the child of first-generation immigrants from India, was.
What's up with that? Well, like so many things related to out youth, our childrens' delayed toilet training rates have more to do with their parents. We busybody middle class moms and dads, who both work, with our nanny/daycare dependence syndrome and microwave dinners, are just too busy to put junior on the potty. Also, disposable nappies are cheap, convenient to store, use, and toss away.
But has anybody ever asked themselves how diapers get made? Well, these are plastic diapers, right? Now, for your organic chemistry afficiandos--plastic is a hydrocarbon, just like today's public enemy #1...gasoline.
Which means...you guessed it...the same OIL we fill our gas tanks with is the same OIL that makes Junior's Pampers.
Thus, it turns out the collective butt of America's children are as dependent on the same Middle Eastern oil as our SUVs.
Sorry. Just when you thought buying that Prius would clear your conscience
I have no idea how much oil it takes to make a box of diapers (according to one website, it's over 3 billion gallons a year in the U.S., which comes out go 82 million barrels of oil/year)
And according to Vitaliy Katsenelson, manager at Investment Management Associates, it's not just the diaper that's made of oil. Making the diapers requires energy, and, of course, those diapers need to be transported to your local store for consumption.
So what to do? Well here are some options:
1) Stop making babies
2) get a cloth diaper service (don't really know that this is a better environmental solution given the transport and cleaning needs. But since my wife convinced me to do this for our daughter, I do know that our I'm not contributing to my local landfill--it takes between 1 and 2 centuries for a plastic diaper to degrade. Plus, my little girl doesn't get as many diaper rashes as all of her friends in disposables)
3) Toilet train early
Ok, so 1 probably isn't an option (just ask those 17 Massachusetts teens), but 2 and 3 seem feasible. Infact, toilet training a kid earlier may be easier because they're less likely to be in that "Terrible Two" phase where their favorite word is "No" and they fight back by witholding their poops and getting constipated.
For a most excellent history of the disposable diaper, and it's environmental impact, visit Mother Jones
For a more cheerful view of this topic, please visit the American Petroleum's brochure--"There's a Lot of Life In A Barrel of Oil"