Earth Day at Disney World

We took a fairly last minute family trip down to Florida this week.  We had only planned it a week out.  This made for some good pricing for us.  We stayed at Disney World resorts.  I had never been there and, although I probably would not have picked that place to visit, with all the beautiful places in the world waiting to be visited, I am glad I went.  We happened to be there on Earth Day, which felt like living irony.  Disney World is one of the last places I might think of as embodying the spirit of Earth Day and I was on the lookout for how the two might meet.  I did find a few things.

Disney World promotes that the place offers lots of shopping.  On its constantly looping television channel a perky young woman asks “Like shopping and dining?  Well you’re in luck, cause there’s tons of it.”  Oy.  Our excessive consumer culture thrives there.  All that shopping means tons of one-use bags, of course, but Disney is trying hard on that front.   They really are pushing the cloth totes they have available at every check-out counter.  Apparently they have a goal of eliminating plastic bags altogether.  They still need to work on not selling lots of plastic crap, but getting rid of plastic bags is a good step.

We flew into Orlando.  From the airport we caught a bus to our resort/hotel.  We visited the Magic Kingdom theme park (I still can’t get used to calling it a “park” which to me means a green space to take a walk or to have a picnic) on Wednesday;  we took a bus to get there.  We checked out other sights by taking other buses or the monorail.  We didn’t get in a car until we got back to Burlington and drove home from there.  Granted, Disney could have worked to place more things closer together so walking is more of an option, but that buses transport visitors, rather than personal cars, is pretty big.  They have limited parking, and the bus system really is convenient (I was wishing that our own public transportation system in Vermont could be so easy and reliable), so they got that one right.

On Earth Day itself, there was some kind of Earth Day themed event, although I never saw what it was.  I did see the parade/street party which, I have to admit, was pretty spectacular.  It was a show of shows.  The announcer at one point reminded everyone that it was Earth Day.  It wasn’t much but at least it was an acknowledgment of the day.  “Who wants to be Green?” he shouted.  A limp cheer rose from the crowd.  It was better than nothing.

The Magic Kingdom does have recycling bins.  They sell too much bottled water, but at least those bottles can be recycled.  Since many places I visit simply don’t offer the option of a separate bin for recycling, it was good to see.  At one point while I was standing at a curb, a man passed me and said “excuse me I just need to toss this,” then reached over the popped his empty water bottle into the trash.  It is one thing to offer a recycling bin, and another to overcome the general apathy against using them.  People need to drink water, and lots of it on a hot day in Florida when they are walking far more than they typically walk, but bottled water just isn’t the answer.

One way Disney addresses this is by offering a plastic reusable mug.  We purchased a meal plan that included a mug for each of us.  We could fill it with hot or cold beverages as much as we wanted.  This included water, but also soft drinks, coffee, tea, juice.  It was a good deal, financially, and they must save tons (literally) of waste with those mugs.  They probably save a lot of money by hauling less trash and by purchasing fewer disposable cups.  That one seems a win win.  Even if one does not purchase a meal plan, the mug can be had for $15.  That would pay for itself with a few drinks.

There were a few other things, like the towel policy that most hotels have adopted these days, so I have some optimism.  Disney has a long way to go (do they need to leave all the doors open at the shops when it is 80 degrees and the air conditioner is running?) but they have made some visible steps to cleaning the place up.  Waste costs, in money, time, lost opportunities, clean air and water.  Disney has moved forward in reducing some of this waste.  I applaud that.  I hope they continue to move forward, as they have a large, captive audience.  If they can get millions of people to at least think about recycling and to stop using their cars, if only for a few days, they can make a difference.  Imagine what they could do if they leveraged themselves fully.  Solar panels on the Magic Kingdom castle anyone?

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