Thanks to Michael (er… I mean, the polar bears) for filling in for me yesterday. I’m wide awake and ready to write the final installment of my Disney adventure story. But actually, I’m having a hard time coming up with the words. All I really need to do is talk about plastic and environmental issues at Disneyland and during the Disneyland Half Marathon. But every time I start, I’m stopped by a kind of cognitive dissonance. Part of me is repulsed by the whole corporate engine of Disney and the vulgar consumerism it promotes.
But another part, the little kid that loves dolls and stuffed toys and pretty lights and music, is fascinated by the park itself and all the make-believe worlds within it. I and my inner child had such a good time with our friend David, and his inner child, rushing from ride to ride and laughing and screaming our heads off, that it’s hard to settle down and get serious about recycling bins and plastic containers and non-toxic paint. Can’t we just go on one more ride, please?!
No? Okay. Well, maybe starting with the race will bring me back down to earth. Because that was no magic tea party. It was all sweat and stress. You know, the way grownups have fun without alcohol. Don’t be fooled by the smile in the photo. It lasted just until I passed the cameraman. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
THE DISNEYLAND HEALTH & FITNESS EXPO
The day before the run was the Health & Fitness Expo. That’s the first place that plastic necessities and temptations get you during any big race weekend. First, you pick up your race number and timing chip.
Race numbers are generally not made from paper, but from DuPont Tyvek, a material made from high-density polyethylene fibers (aka, #2 plastic) bonded together with heat and pressure. That’s why they don’t rip or soak up sweat. On its website, DuPont says that Tyvek is recyclable, and in fact, it gives an address where folks can send used Tyvek envelopes back to DuPont to be recycled. The site doesn’t mention whether DuPont will take back any other Tyvek product besides envelopes for recycling, so I’ve left a message with that department and will let you know what I find out. I would have checked earlier, but it didn’t occur to me that the race number was plastic until just twenty minutes ago! (I guess I should include my race number in my plastic tally for this week!)
The timing chip is also made of plastic, but it’s a loaner. You give it back at the end of the race. Pat asked what I used to attach the timing chip to my shoe since they give you a little plastic tie thing that gets cut off and thrown away. Actually, I didn’t have to use anything but my shoelaces because I bought my own timing chip at the Disney World Marathon in January and am able to use it at any races that use Champion Chips. But he had a good idea for folks who don’t own their own. He has a Velcro tie that he reuses so that he doesn’t have to waste a new plastic tie each time.
Once you have your number and chip, you head to the goodie table to pick up your shirt and swag bag. Of course, the bag is plastic. And the Disney shirt is a technical tee made from synthetic fibers. (Should I have included my shirt in the tally too?) Running wear is one of the biggest issues facing runners who want to avoid plastic. We’ve learned that running in natural cotton just doesn’t work. Cotton soaks up moisture and leads to chafing, blisters, and overheating. Technical fibers wick moisture and make exercise much more pleasant. So what’s an environmentally conscious runner to do?
Honestly, I haven’t done a whole lot of research on running wear because up to this point, I haven’t needed any new clothes. I’ve got enough water-wicking tank tops, shorts, and socks to last a good long time. But receiving this tee shirt has started me thinking again. Where would I turn if I needed new clothes?
It seems that Patagonia leads the pack in creating athletic wear from recycled materials. Much of their synthetic clothing is made from recycled plastics (eg. soda bottles) or recycled clothing through their Common Threads Garment Recycling Program. This is great if you’re a mountain climber or hiker. But Patagonia doesn’t produce much clothing for runners. In fact, a month ago I wrote to Patagonia about their recycled clothing and received the following response from Peter in Patagonia Customer Service:
Thanks for your email. Many of us do use capilene 1 for our running needs here in the sierras. Our goal is to have recycled content in all of our garments in the next 3 years but some products are easier than other. The Long Haul runners are currently 100% recycled polyester but that seems to be the exception at the moment. As we find the opportunity to introduce more recycled content we will. We want the recycled content but also do not want to hurt the performance either by making compromises.
But you’ll notice, the URL I’ve linked to for the Long Haul shorts is not on the Patagonia website. Those shorts are no longer listed on their site. So it’s possible they’ve been discontinued altogether. Do any of you have advice or information about athletic wear that is made from either recycled polyester/plastic or some sort of miracle water-wicking natural fiber? Please let me know! Once I’ve gathered enough information, I’ll devote an entire post to sustainable athletic wear.
But now, it’s time to address that plastic swag bag: I just said no. To the bag and to everything inside it. I had my number, my chip, and my shirt. What could I have possibly needed that was inside that bag? Just because stuff is free doesn’t mean we need to take it. Of course, once you leave that last table, you are beset on all sides with temptations in the form of vendors hawking their wares and giving away free stuff, often plastic. My advice is just to get the heck out. It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, but do we really need anything new?
Little Beth’s Interlude of Impatience: Oh my god! The Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror is the scariest and best ride I have ever been on!
And… we’re back.
Synthetic tank top, shorts, socks, & shoes; nylon waist pack; plastic band-aids; DuPont Tyvek race number; plastic containers of Body Glide and sunscreen; plastic bag in hand carrying EVA flip flops; plastic Timex Ironman watch; plastic iPod in a Neoprene sleeve with plastic headphones. I was a running billboard for the plastics industry, no different from most of the other runners. Except that instead of a plastic water bottle in my waist pack, I carried my stainless steel Klean Kanteen. And except for the race number, all the plastic on me was something I had acquired before starting this plastic project. As things wear out or get used up, I’ll have to find alternatives.
Pat asked me another question about the race itself: the cups at the water stations. They were paper. In fact, I’ve never seen plastic cups at any water station during a race. Can you imagine them rolling around in the streets? And no, it’s not good to waste so much paper. But it is good to stay hydrated in 90-degree weather. I filled up my Klean Kanteen as often as possible. But the water itself was poured from large plastic bottles, so what’re you gonna do?
I ate a banana before the race began and nothing else until the end. The only food on the route were energy bars wrapped in plastic. If I’d been thinking ahead, I might have stashed some granola in my waist pack to munch on. But I wasn’t. So I wolfed down bananas and oranges and bagels at the finish line and then wandered back to the hotel in a daze.
Not much else to say about plastic during the race, except to reiterate that runners wear and use a lot of plastic, and we really need to find alternatives.
DISNEYLAND THEME PARKS
Disney has an entire section of their website dedicated to the company’s environmental mission. It lists progress in recycling, composting, education, energy conservation, and all kinds of other efforts that the company is making. I’ll let you read that on your own if you want. I’m just going to focus on what I actually saw during my visit.
First of all, there are recycle bins throughout the park. According to Disney’s website as well as what I’ve heard from people who’ve taken the Disney tour, Disney not only provides separate recycling bins for guests but also has staff that go through the regular garbage and sort out recyclables. My one question about their system is why they seem to have more bins for garbage than for recycling. If there were a recycle bin next to each garbage bin, guests might be more likely to put items in the correct one, creating less work for the sorters.
But although Disney seems to encourage recycling, they also provide quite a bit of plastic waste. In every park restaurant, children’s meals are served in what seem to be black plastic microwave trays shaped like Mickey Mouse heads. And there is no place to recycle these. When I was finished eating my meal (which had been served on reusable plates) I asked about a container for my leftovers and was presented with a choice of plastic or Styrofoam. David and I ended up stuffing ourselves with cheesecake instead of waste it or pack it in plastic. Any reasonable person would have done the same under the circumstances. We had too, right?
I didn’t bring my Klean Kanteen with me to the park because I was just so hot and couldn’t bear the thought of wearing that waist pack for another minute. So I got an iced tea in a paper cup when I first got there and carried that paper cup around with me all day, from 1 pm to midnight, refilling it at each water fountain I passed. (Remember the days before plastic bottles when we all drank from public fountains?) I nearly lost it when an employee in Soarin’ Over California told me I couldn’t take water into the theater with me. So I drank the whole thing down in front of him and walked through with my empty cup.
I thought I’d made it through the whole day without buying anything more than food and throwing away only one paper napkin and my well-used cup. But at the final moments of the park closing, the mad desire to have a souvenir overcame us as it did all the other guests thronging into the Main Street shops to buy buy buy just one last thing! I ended up with a nice big coffee mug that I will use over and over. No, I didn’t really need it. But I carried it out of the park sans packaging or bag and was happy that the damage wasn’t any worse. Consumerism can be contagious.
So little Beth, was there something else you wanted to say?
Disneyland rides are the best anywhere! I love being dropped down and shot up and flown and whipped and careened. I don’t like the lines. Well, sometimes it’s fun to watch the people and imagine what they’re like in real life. I love getting into a little car and riding into the dark. Disney rides are like bedtime stories, even the ones with a big splash at the end. And I love escaping from the heat into their cool innards. I love running from ride to ride, hoping to experience them all at least once that day, while knowing that it’s impossible. I love staying all day and watching the changes that come over the park as night comes and a million stars twinkle. And then parades and fireworks. And I love going home utterly wrung out and exhausted and hearing in the back of my mind my grandmother’s voice saying, “You kids are really gonna sleep good tonight!”
You have to forgive her. Little Beth doesn’t know anything about global warming or energy conservation or capitalism. She just knows she had a rockin’ good time and is a little sad that Big Beth won’t take her there every day.