Diaper Free? Our EC / Zero Waste Baby Story

Did we go totally diaper free? No, we did not. But in the spirit of striving towards zero waste, we did our best to implement EC and potty train early, and we had quite a bit of success.

My story is more than four years old now, but I want to share it now. The need to reduce waste is more urgent than ever. King County’s landfill is running out of room, and we can’t keep using land to dump resources that shouldn’t be produced or wasted in the first place. Cloth diapers are great, but using them requires lots of water and soap. Not to mention fuel for those diaper delivery trucks if you use a service. So how can we handle baby and toddler waste most sustainably?

Elimination Communication – it’s a rhyme-y, fun name for the dance you do with a baby to figure out when they need to pee or poop and get them to an appropriate receptacle. It’s also called EC, going diaper free or infant potty training. We had moderate success with this, and I’m glad we did it. Here’s our story.

Expectant Parents Learn EC

We stumbled upon the idea of EC before our son was born. We took a class on cloth diapering and EC, and it sounded great. Billions of people in the world live on less than $1/day. Do you think they buy Pampers?

The basic idea is that babies know when they have to go. It’s a physical sensation, and they may give signs that they are feeling it.

If we encourage them to pay attention and communicate when they eliminate, we can “catch” their waste in a toilet, sink, shower, bowl, grassy knoll, etc.

Inuit mothers carry their infants naked against their backs under their big parkas. Once in a while they whisk them out, help them eliminate, and put them back.

wearing a baby with Moby wrap

This practice teaches us that baby-wearing helps you feel the signs. And since it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re in the same room when baby signals, wearing them helps with that, too.

We acquired several wraps and carriers for baby-wearing, as well as some cloth diapers before my son was born. We read a book on infant potty training and an e-book / website called Go Diaper Free that I’m happy to recommend. We were ready to be green in this department!

Baby is Born, Reality Sets In

When my son (he’s chosen the handle Dr. Diaper for this post) was a newborn, we found that the EC story was largely true. He was not leaking slowly all the time. He would usually urinate when we took his diaper off, so we used those super-absorbent pre-fold cloth diapers to “catch” and made the pss-pss sound to teach him a cue we could use later.

The cue worked, but the angles didn’t. Anatomically, he just always peed straight up as an infant. The sink or toilet was hard to manage with just two hands and a floppy-headed youngster. We usually aimed into the shower.

Another issue specific to Dr. Diaper was that he cried a lot, partly due to medical issues and partly temperament? Anyway, it was not always easy to tell what was distressing him, and whether it was elimination-related.

When Dr. Diaper woke up each morning, I would take off his diaper and sit with him on the toilet. Me clothed, scooted back, holding his back against my chest and aiming down. This was a nice, slow way to wake up, and N would sometimes poop.

From the age of 6 months to 12 months or so, N was in the rhythm of this “fresh start” and rarely pooped the rest of the time. Once he got good at sitting, I’d put him on a Baby Bjorn and he’d happily do his business.

This means Dr. Diaper had zero dirty diapers for at least the first two months that he was at daycare, starting at 10 months — a fact his caregivers never complained about! Wet ones, yes, but not dirty ones. Since we were using cloth at that time, I would get all the used diapers back in a wet-bag at the end of each day.

I never complained either.

The Inevitable Setbacks in EC

As Dr. Diaper started to learn to walk and gain more independence, he started to resist sitting on the toilet in the mornings and also at other times. We took a long pause and forgot about EC for a while. I definitely remember washing lots of dirty cloth diapers from daycare during the half-year between ages 18-24 months. Boo. Bac-Out in a spray bottle was my friend.

Dr. Diaper had a mighty will, and this was one messy way that he expressed it. I had started reading about potty training and decided that with summer rolling around, I was going to prepare for a mighty potty battle, and I was going to win.

Potty Training at 25 months

The very best thing you can do to lower your toddler’s carbon footprint is to potty train them. They are totally capable, and with a little investment of time and attention up front, life becomes easier for everyone for years to come.

The average age at which toddlers ditch diapers around the world is 18 months. In the US in the 1940s, it was the same. Today, we are super delayed in the US with our average age of 3 years. It’s unconscionable, and not at all the kids’ fault.

EC, even done part-time like we did it, is great because it means your kid actually has a clue about their nether-regions before you start training. They are familiar with the sensation of waste falling away from them as it comes out, not being (reassuringly?!?) stuck to their bottom for a while afterwards. I really believe it helped us succeed in ditching the diapers for good the summer he turned two.

noah plays with trains

The potty training train

I highly recommend the book Oh Crap, Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki. It helped me meticulously prepare for the process and succeed. I don’t buy the whole “your child has to want to use the potty” line, and neither did she. I mean, yes, they have to agree to it, but it doesn’t have to be their idea in the first place. You have to convince them that it’s awesome!

It’s required, but they’re going to love it. Let me know if you want all the details of that story…

Portable Potties for Elimination Communicators and Trainees

Just one more note on sustainability: when we finally ventured out of the house without diapers (or you can call them “travel pants”), I kept a portable potty with me. This was fine when using the car in Seattle, but it was pretty crazy when we traveled to the East Coast and I carried it everywhere. I looked like a hobo with Dr. Diaper on my back in a backpack, potty hanging off the backpack, plus my rolling suitcase, handbag, etc. I don’t even think we ended up using it, but it was there for peace of mind.

Since then, they’ve come out with these foldable cardboard potties (magyarul papír bili / Potty Flip) that are much smaller and lighter to carry around. Brilliant! You can put a compost bag inside to catch the waste and reuse the cardboard.

Stay tuned for more posts about Zero Waste for families with kids! #ZeroWasteParenting


  1. K

    I potty trained at 22 months (no EC), but should have at 19. I used the Tiny Potty Training Book – by the same author at the Go Diaper Free website. I highly recommend it, even over Oh Crap! Potty Training- I just didn’t like any other books at all.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! I don’t think that Tiny book existed when I was training. Glad it worked out well!

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