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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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.


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… Read more »

The cotton bags

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


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… Read more »

Erin aka Conscious Shopper

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

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

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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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,… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »

Deanna Piercy

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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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.


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

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!!


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… Read more »

Condo Blues

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… Read more »

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green

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… Read more »