The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 8, 2009

Reconciling Disneyland’s Personal Impact with Environmental Impact

My boss took some of us to Disneyland this weekend. She’s a nice boss!

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

I know some of you are just appalled at the idea of Disneyland, while others find it as fun as I do. My question is: How can I reconcile the utter joy I feel at Disneyland with not only the environmental impact but also the homogenization of culture and the promotion of consumerism? It’s tacky for sure. But also utterly beautiful.

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

I can’t even imagine how much electricity must go into powering this fantastic spectacle.

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

I’m a kid when I go there, just as I wrote back in 2007 after running the Disneyland Half Marathon and then giving my inner child the time of her life.

Still, I can’t escape noticing waste and plastic. There seemed to be only one type of inexpensive restaurant in the park with durable plates and utensils. Those were the Mexican restaurants. And I was glad to find them.

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

All other affordable eating places served food, even hot foods like pasta, in disposable plastic plates and bowls or paper/carboard boxes. Yes, there were recycle bins throughout the park:

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

And Disney apparently does backend recycling, separating out recyclables that are tossed in the trash. But why use so much throw-away stuff in the first place? And why oh why so much plastic for our food?

I brought my Klean Kanteen and filled it with water from the drinking fountains. And I was happy to know that the water from the fountains is recycled, filtered water. But my co-worker Jo (who sometimes comments on this blog) bought a drink in a reusable souvenir bottle, thinking she’d be able to refill it, only to find that the concessionaires would not refill the bottle for “hygienic” purposes.

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

Hey Disney, what’s the point of selling a reusable bottle… and plastic at that… and then not refilling them?

I had planned on bringing in my new reusable travel mug for hot drinks. Unfortunately, I forgot that glass is not allowed in parks and was forced to toss out my jar before entering. Turns out, I probably wouldn’t have been able to use it after all.

I did end up taking home one plastic container to add to my tally… some unexpected cole slaw served in a plastic cup. When I tried to hand it back with my usual explanation about plastic, the server refused to take it. “Throw it away if you don’t want it,” he insisted. Other unexpected plastic: a spoon that was inserted into my ice cream before I could say I didn’t need one. I asked her to use it for someone else, but I saw her toss it in the trash instead. *Sigh*

Still, Disney recently won the 2009 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) from the State of California for various initiatives like replenishing ground water when it drained its Paradise Bay in preparation for a new attraction, using biodiesel from its own processed cooking oil in its steam trains, and building a new energy-efficient bakery.

But do these measures make up for the huge impact this company has worldwide? Jennifer Lance from Eco Child’s Play is skeptical. In her well researched article, “Disney’s Environmental Goals: Greenwashing or Corporate Responsibility?,” she takes issue with Disney’s first Corporate Responsibility report and urges the company to:

Stop selling junk, stop using chemicals, only use recyclables, put a solar bank in the parking lot of all theme parks that could provide shelter for cars, create more green spaces in the parks, serve organic food, offer free park admission to people that ride mass transit, stop violating human rights in factories that produce your goods, etc. Disney, you have a long way to go before being green!

All that bad stuff being fully acknowledged, I still love the place. Besides the magical beauty of lights and colors and sound, I love the rides: the scarier the better. I love the rides with the biggest drops, the sharpest curves. You know, the ones that make my body sore and my brain turn to Jello. And do I hold on for dear life or throw my arms up in the air even though all the signs tell you to keep them in the car? Throw them up, of course, and just let go.

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

And when they’re scary and tacky and beautiful? Perfect.

Disneyland Evironmental Impact

So, how we reconcile our love for beautiful things with high environmental impacts? And how can we live a balanced life without deprivation but still living as lightly on the earth as possible? I’d love to hear your opinions.

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13 years ago

I don’t blame you for liking Disneyland, I love it myself. And really, they aren’t so bad compared to other theme parks or carnivals. Also, I think that they’re a company that listens to the wants and needs of the consumer. I can’t eat gluten, but I know I’m safe at just about every retsurant in the park. All because people started to hound them about food choices. And speaking about park resturants, some locations have compostable flatware! It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

13 years ago

I always struggle with issues of “should I be allowed this even though it’s an environmental disaster?” I know that I don’t live as responsibly as I could or should, although I am practically militant compared to others in my family and circle of friends.

My biggest issue is with travelling. It is my life’s dream to travel. Travelling to other places is what makes life worthwhile. I love it. I want to get a travel trailer and travel all around North America with my husband and kids for like 2 years. It is my dream, and I feel totally conflicted because it would be an extremely wasteful use of resources for my own personal pleasure.

On the other hand, if I can’t pursue my dreams, what exactly is the point of living the next 50+years on this planet? Just putting in my time, trying to erase the evidence of my existence? I would do a more thorough job by just killing myself now.

Since this train of thought always ends up with suicide, I try not to think about it too often. It’s not healthy.

The cotton bags
13 years ago

Interesting article. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been planning a similar sort of post only about fireworks and Christmas lights.

13 years ago

I quite enjoyed this post Beth. I struggle internally a good bit with my enjoyment for things like Disney and my interest in the environment. At times it seems hard to reconcile the two, but I think doing just what people like you are doing is a great first start. We can’t change Disney with a swoop of a little green wand a’la the fairy godmother. Nor can we alter the fact that such places exist by not going or trash talking. But the more people request more sustainable options or bring their own water bottles, etc, the more such places will get the point and begin to make positive changes. Ten years ago, I’ll bet those recycle bins didn’t even exist. Ten years from now, who knows? Maybe that cole slaw won’t just come on a biodegradable, recycled plate, but will even be locally sourced and organic ;)

Keep up the great work. I rarely comment, but I’ve been SO inspired by you and love the blog. Congrats on a job well done.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
13 years ago

I’ve been planning a similar sort of post only about fireworks and Christmas lights (especially when they have the lights timed to music – I loooove that!) And I’ve already told my husband that a really awesome 50th anniversary gift would be my own personal fireworks show even though that’s 42 years away. I haven’t researched the environmental impact of fireworks, but I can’t imagine that shooting things that blow up into the sky is very environmentally friendly. But oh man, how I love them. :)

And wooden roller coasters totally rock!

John Costigane
13 years ago

Hi Beth,

Highlighting the positives, like the Mexican food utensils, has value in creating dialogue where both sides can be winners. When people use such facilities, following the blog coverage, Disney may well decide to expand this approach and gain extra kudos in the process. Building good contacts is the best way to resolve difficult issues.

The Raven
13 years ago

Let me first say that I in no way think I am holier than thou, despite what this email may sound like. What you do in your private life is so much more responsible than what I do, and what you do publicly on this blog really does change the world. So my serious apologies in advance if I sound incredibly snotty in this comment. Disney just brings out the evil in me…

My personal revulsion at Disney has very little to do with the corporation’s environmental impact–but your post makes realize that it is not totally unrelated. I think growing up being taught to see over-the-top profit-designed artificialness as beauty creates a great number of problems for both society and the planet. In other words, it isn’t just the waste that happens at Disney; it is the whole message.

(I promise to be back to “nice and appropriate” by my next comment.)

Beth Terry
13 years ago
Reply to  The Raven

Are you kidding me? Rant away. There is no rule against venting or ranting on this blog, as long as comments to other commenters are civil. I totally agree with you on Disney’s messages, which is why I generally stick to the rides I love and some of the beautiful spectacles. It’s artificial for sure. But I focus on the beauty rather than the message. I know that by giving Disney my money, I am perpetuating those messages, but does any other theme park offer alternative messages along with the Tower of Terror and California Screamin’ roller coaster?

Although honestly, my favorite roller coaster whole world is the antique wooden one at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

13 years ago

Recently I was at the beach for a bonfire with friends in Orange County and later in the evening someone suddenly spotted fireworks in the distance. Someone more familiar with the area said it was Disney. And although fireworks aren’t directly what you were referring to with regard to environmental impact (although from what I gather they aren’t that great), there was something somewhat intense about it, this symbolic visualizations of Disney’s effect. I was in a rare place, someplace where I felt somewhat isolated in the Los Angeles area, and Disney was shooting off fireworks that who knows how far people could see, every single night, making our little beach fire seem so insignificant.

Admittingly, I’m not a fan of theme parks. I live near Universal Studios Hollywood and they are constantly coming up with their own crazy, not so environmental, yet “green” plans. How many times can you keep on telling people to use reusable bags and not much else while handing out plastic bags left and right at your theme park, but still call yourself green? I see people constantly flocking to the train station from Universal Studios, carrying all sorts of plastic bags filled with plastic bottles shaped like Spongebob SquarePants wondering how many times they are actually going to use it before it’s tossed.

13 years ago

I love that Disneyland does the backend recycling. I imagine they recycle about 90% or more of everything sold that day because I see very few people make it back to their cars with any plastic trash. The huge problem is using all that plastic in the first place. I cringe at almost every food place I go to there. I think even pickles are served in plastic containers, if I am not mistaken. It makes me crazy. I go to D-land every other month on average. I wish every major company would switch to Greenware. Have you all seen this great line of “plastic” cups made from corn?

13 years ago

I enjoy the theme parks, and I will likely visit with my own children at some point. I think that they could go a long way toward reducing waste, absolutely. But in terms of my issues with Disney, the energy they use at Disneyland is pretty low on the list. Of course, I live in Canada so it’s not like I am a regular patron by any stretch of the imagination, the last time I visited was 1993.

My issue with Disney is more all of the cheap plastic crap they make and sell to kids. The Disney Princess dolls and clothes and Happy Meal Toys and plastic cups and toothpaste and even fruit snacks. There is pretty much nothing that Disney won’t license, and that really contributes to the crazy consumerism. What I would really like to see is less of that stuff. Let me tell you, as the mother of a 4-year-old girl, I really just wish the Disney princesses would just go away altogether.

Deanna Piercy
13 years ago

I grew up in Southern California and went to Disneyland 4-6 times a year. Every time we visit relatives in CA, we make a trip to Disneyland. Suffice it to say, I love the place. While I think we should continue to encourage Disney to make improvements and reduce their environmental impact, I am not prepared to avoid the occasional visit. Nor do I think we accomplish much for the environmental movement when we advocate boycotting all fun. I think it’s the things we do on a daily basis, rather than the once in awhile treat, that really count in the long run.

13 years ago

Firstly if you love something you should continue doing it. Beth you make enough sacrifices in your everyday life that the occasional trip to Disneyland is not going to cause the end of the world! Heck one of my hobbies is dirtbiking. Yep I ride bikes using gas, all across the So Cal mountains. Yes it uses fossil fuel and all the bike parts, and travel to get there, but I LOVE it. I love being green but that doesn’t mean I have to give up everything.

Secondly. My husband works for Disney Online. I can tell you that they do indeed do backend recycling. They do this at the parks and at all their offices/HQs. They also provide reusable travel type mugs for all the employees so they ARE looking at more sustainable sources. Like someone mentioned already with a company this big things just don’t happen overnight. They do have carpooling incentive payments for colleagues that carpool, and they also have incentives for employees using mass transport. Recycle bins are everywhere also. They really are making a lot of changes in their global impact. I believe in some places you can buy the organic/ethically made Disney clothing, but until the CONSUMER changes there isn’t much they can do. We have to remember that not everyone is as green conscious as we are. Disneyland has some of the best greenland of all the Amusement parks I’ve been to, they also use mostly native plants or climate appropriate plants to avoid excess watering. The fountains/ride water is recycled where possible so they do consider all issues. Trains now run on 100 percent biodiesel. Heck they recycled old ride parts for the Finding Nemo Attraction using subs from and older attraction. All plastic bags are 100& recycled (imagine just how many bags that is a year!) and they are selling tote bags also (as is everyone nowadays) so platic doesn’t HAVE To be an option for purchases.Remember this park is over 50 years old, and a lot of the original design remains, this was a period of time when we weren’t conscious of our global impact so they are having to work around existing infrastructure for the most part too. Sure I could do without all the plastic toys and crap like that but then nothing is perfect!

Thirdly, let me know when you go next, could be a cool trip! Haven’t been since September :)

13 years ago

Going green isn’t something that any entity can do overnight, no matter how large or small. It’s a big deal just for us housewives. Disney is a multi national corporation. It’s not something they can just snap their fingers and do. It takes time, even for us. They’re clearly working to overcome their shortcomings, and I think it’s a far better idea to work with them and keep sending them requests and so on.

While Jennifer Lance is right, she’s also not thinking rationally. You can’t criticize something that hasn’t realized it’s full green potential. They were awarded that title of California because they were making progress and showing leadership in that area. It was fully deserved, even though they still have a long way to do.

Does what they’ve done make up for what they use? No, but how about any of us? Is what we’re doing on an individual basis enough? I think it’s delusions of grandeur to think that it is. Maybe nothing will ever be enough. But, we can try, and that’s what Disney is clearly doing.

13 years ago

I think, at some point, we have to accept that our world is perfectly imperfect. As are we. Keep writing to Disney, keep pushing them to do better, and keep loving that childlike wonder you get at Disneyland. It’s all good.

13 years ago

Beauty and delight have value! We don’t want to eliminate them because they use resources. We want to quit wasting resources on things that don’t bring us joy, such as junk mail or plastic-wrapped bananas, so that our responsible budget goes 100% into things that bring health and happiness.

Linda Anderson
13 years ago

You are allowed to enjoy yourself, Beth. If Disney gives you pleasure, then enjoy and when you get home direct your environmental passion in their direction. We green bloggers want people to listen to us, to read our blogs, and to adopt some of our suggestions. If we are always wearing the hair shirt, no one will want to join us. Have some fun!!

13 years ago

Disney completely freaks me out.
I feel that’s it’s monolithically evil underneath the green washing.
I heard that the kids who make Disney’s 101 Dalmations toys in Haiti got 3 cents a day plus a bowl of rice and beans.
It breaks my heart and simultaneously makes me want to vomit.

I get the pretty lights thing though.
Maybe you’d like Burning Man and find some better listeners there when you raise issues of consumption. I’ve not been myself because of the fossil fuel consumption problems, but you are relatively nearby. I go to “Burner” parties here on the Toronto Islands so I get my fill of pretty fire!

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

Condo Blues
13 years ago

I ask myself the same question, especially at Christmas time when the holiday lights go up. I went to Zoo Lights at our zoo last year and I turned into a kid again marveling at all the lights in the trees and light and sound show over their lake but the eco grownup would pop up every once and awhile and ask if I could really enjoy all of this knowing how much electricity they were using? Especially when I make great pains to keep my use at 15 kwh a month? Maybe this is just me giving them a pass because I like holiday lights but when I saw the HUGE crowds there to see the lights and that one of the areas that’s open (and busy) is the recycling/eco house area that maybe people who come for the lights and don’t normally recycle might learn something and give it a try at home. Or maybe they will see how pretty the LED lights are (they converted to 100% LED lights this year) and try some and reduce their electricity use. I have to say, even if I wasn’t convinced that LEDs are the way to go to reduce electricity, I’d use them because they glow more and are much prettier.

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

I think we should keep working with Disney to try and get them to be more sustainable. We have to remember that the key is moderation. Also we aren’t going to shut down the parks and I don’t think that should be the point.

Someone asked me the other day about my love for football even though the NFL is not so green. I told him that footballs not going anyway so we should work with them, no point in boycotting.

Religious groups have boycotting Disney for years and they aren’t going anywhere. I did get a letter last year from Disney after asking them to use natural biodegradable cleaners in Animal Kingdom (because it’s highly important for the animals health) and I got a letter that was not just a form letter saying they have been working to make the switch. Yes they have a long way to go but they are smart business people so they know green is the in thing so now is the time to get them to listen. :)