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Disney (Waste) Land

What do garbage and public relations have in common? Take a trip to future world and find out.

I had never really considered a career as a sanitation engineer, but suddenly the idea doesn't seem far-fetched. "Good job!" a perky female voice commends me as I spill a load of dirt over a fresh pile of trash at the bottom of a dump. Really? I think. "You have a great future in landfill management," she adds emphatically.

Maybe. But I'm not really at a landfill, only moving a little yellow dozer with a joystick at Walt Disney World's Epcot, where Waste Management Inc. has an exhibit called "Don't Waste It," and the voice is prerecorded. I could be doing nothing -- and since I've never touched a joystick before today, it's possible I am doing nothing -- and she'd be happy.

Since opening in 1982, Epcot has celebrated human achievement, particularly in the technological sphere, and projected hope for the world's future. The goals sound high-minded, though most of Epcot's offerings are no more than rides or games with the thinnest of educational veneers. For example, Epcot visitors -- or "guests," in Disney parlance -- learn how to prevent house fires by playing an interactive game sponsored by Liberty Mutual, how engineers design safe cars by screaming around a test track sponsored by General Motors, and how biotechnologists "feed a growing population" on a boat ride sponsored by Nestlé. Elsewhere, we are shown how Siemens refrigerators coated with special powders will prevent the growth of microbes in homes of the future. Might the powders lead to powder-resistant bacteria, the way our profligate use of antibacterials has given rise to bugs that resist all antibiotics? That's a possibility our Disney "cast member" doesn't address.

I wanted to see what Waste Management, the country's largest garbage company, was up to, and not only because it has such a long way to go in the public relations department. (It was rocked by an accounting scandal in the late 1990s and has paid many millions of dollars in fines for environmental violations, including burying waste illegally, spilling hazardous waste, and violating the federal Superfund law.) I was also curious about its new slogan, "Think Green," which seems the pinnacle of doublespeak. After all, the company's success -- it posted record-breaking earnings in February 2008, when this exhibit opened -- depends on a steady, if not rising, stream of waste. It stands to reason that consuming and wasting less stuff, one of the best things an individual can do for the health of the planet, is antipodal to corporate goals.

image of Elizabeth Royte
OnEarth contributing editor Elizabeth Royte also writes for the New York Times Book Review, which called her "no stranger to the pleasures and perils of chasing errant pieces of plastic and other castoffs to surprising (and often disgusting) places."... READ MORE >

Were you able to determine how much plastic Disney buys in all its forms including merchandising bags, trash bags etc.

Also, does Disney have any plastic recycling program in place?

I've started a new blog, Say No the Plastic at Wordpress. I'd be interested as to what Disney is doing. Are they part of the problem or part of the solution?

I joined the large numbers of my fellow Britons on a visit to Disney World Florida with my family 2 years ago.

I was very disappointed at the whole Disney machine, which appeared to be entirely dedicated to persuading visitors to spend money at every 'rides-end' on trash and trivia. The eco-theme promoted within the wild animal park was green whitewash.

Overall, it was apparent that recycling, reducing consumption and green issues were outside the Disney management brief.

However, since Disney has done such a fantastic job of promoting their 'wholesome family values' any critiscm of failures in these and other areas is seen as an act of treason. Friends and family alike would appear to have been brain-washed into viewing Disney as a paradise from where dissenters must be banished.........

Had Disney conserved a small area of the vast waste/scrub land they rescued to build Disney World, I think it might have become my favourite park.

On a positive note, the best bit of my stay in Disney was the sighting of an Armadillo waddling through the woods near our 'Disney' cabin!

Sadly, to balance my piece somewhat, Britain is full of Zoo's and Theme parks playing lip service to the eco-themes they promote.

Finally, I read an interesting piece in the National Geographic magazine last year about the socio-political consequences of the Disney machine in Florida which is well worth reading.

Elizabeth Royte has hit the nail on the head with her article on "Disney Waste Land". I have traveled a good bit and cannot help but notice how we in the US are not recycling or using energy wisely as other countries have been doing. These people in so called 3rd world countries are recycling, driving small cars,living in adequate energy efficient homes. In the US we are still building huge homes and driving some real mechanical monsters. In the US we act as if there is no energy crunch. More writers should speak up like Ms. Royte.

What better place to set a conservation example especially to the young people of the US than Disney? Maybe Disney will get real about waste in the US.

One "Green" concept missing from this (well done) article is the Sweat-shop factor. Among the many social violations Disney has in it's toy and clothing manufacturing sites are the number of children, and women who work exceedingly long hours with few to no breaks, and the inability to form unions.

Why should a multi billion dollar corporation tout "envirnmentality" without social responsibility?

Disney's greenwash is outrageous.

I visited Disney World with my kids only once and never got to EPCOT. While everybody else went on rides, I looked at other things: plantings, transitions between "lands", maintenance, line management, and activities.
Those activities are telling. They had rides, eating places and retail stores, each in about equal numbers. That translates into a theme park which touts its rides but actuality has allowed only a third of its activities to be rides. I would guess that Disney used the same formula for EPCOT, replacing the rides with "learning" experiences.
My next trip to Disney (1993 or 94) was alone through the service gate to the Reedy Creek composting facility. I was taken on a private tour through the covered, open aerated pile facility and learned that it was the second attempt by Disney W to compost waste food coming from its restaurants. The first attempt -- an in-vessel system -- had been dismantled because of problems.
Instead of the greenwash constructed by Waste Management, the "waste" section of EPCOT would have been much more interesting had it routed the general public through Reedy Creek. They would have learned just how difficult it is to set up a waste recycling facility that works as expected. But reality isn't a happy experience.
I just googled "reedy compost" and didn't find Disney's facility. I wonder if it has been dismantled.

Wow! Hey Elizabeth...maybe they should call the new theme park "Garbage Land" - you'd see some fat Disney-style royalty checks from that one!

Of course, Disney's always been a pioneer in the business of selling consumption, so this is not "news." I wouldn't hold my breath on anything changing drastically down in Orlando.

Many too many economic powerbrokers have been playing "the only game in town" the way everyone "in the know" has been participating in the construction of a leviathan-like "house of cards" called the global political economy.

QUESTION: Can we share an understanding of the many attacks on Earth and climate scientists by saying loudly and clearly that their assailants' activities are venal efforts to spread garbage and junk science, based upon nothing more or less than the duplicitous promulgation of ideological idiocy?

ANSWER: The many arrogant and hostile efforts toward Earth and climate scientists are for the sole purpose of shoring-up and building trust in a con game; to support the most colossal pyramid scheme in human history.....a modern version of the ancient Tower of Babel. Only this modern 'edifice' is an Economic Colossus, one not made of stone but rather built out of filthy lucre as a house of playing cards. The entire game is a patently unsustainable, gigantic ruse perpetrated by a tiny, greedy minority of outrageously conspicuous consumers who are recklessly consolidating and relentlessly hoarding great wealth and power.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
established 2001

I went to Disney World with my family this last Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year at Disney World. There were a few days some parks closed due to capacity (a rarity as I understand it), so I can only imagine how much waste was produced. This is the first time I've been to Disney since entering college and becoming interested in my impact on the environment, so I was approaching my trip to my favorite vacation spot from a very different angle. Previously, the only things to annoy me at WDW were broken down rides (usually Space Mountain), and the music spilling out of Its A Small World. When you add an attempt to be eco-friendly into the mix, you find some exciting additions to that list. Most notable:

1. Recycling -- The bins are so few and far between that you find yourself carrying 2-3 plastic water bottles by the time you find one. Wouldn't it make sense to have each trash bin accompanied by a recycle bin.

2. Air conditioning -- I stayed at the Port Orleans resort, where each room has 1 giant wonderful window. As it was December, the weather in Florida was quite mild making an open window much more pleasant than the AC that made the room to cold anyway. Every time our room was cleaned, they closed the window and cranked the air to 60 degrees.

3. Housekeeping -- When I'm at home, I do towels and bedclothes once or twice a month. Since I was only at Disney for 5 days, I saw no reason for these things to be changed. Besides, they tuck in the blankets on the bed and I hate that. Consequently, after I discovered simply telling the management that my room need not be made up didn't work, I permanently left the Do Not Disturb sign on my door. Even then, after 2 days, the housekeeper left a bag of towels we must need outside our door. Nice thought, but it obviously defeated the purpose of what I was trying to do.

4. Less important, but still notable -- the utter absence of WALL-E anything. My boyfriend had been scouting for a plush WALL-E since we saw the film in theaters. Since it was new and so popular, we assumed merchandise would be all over WDW. I finally found one small display in an Epcot gift shop proudly declaring, "Small change, big difference." Needless to say, I did get a plush WALL-E, but I was still so disappointed that they neglected such an opportunity to raise awareness. They hid this lovable characte that has the opportunity to really encourage visitors to use those scarce recycling bins.

I still loved my trip. I'll still go back. I was glad to see some progress is being made (when I visited 4 years ago, there were no recycle bins, and you couldn't get your room cleaned but still reuse your towels). I did, however, express all of these concerns (and then some) when prompted to give feedback on my vacation. Who knows, maybe this trend towards green will continue allowing Disney to take that leadership role. Afterall, it's not like they have much competition.

Very interesting article which highlights the problems large companies have with waste management.

A company as big as Disney has no excuses when it comes to this sort of thing and should be leading the way in reducing waste. How about creating rides and attractions for the kids that actually educate them about the environment? Surely they have the resources and funds to do this.

I can see it now…..Mickey Mouse and the Landfill of Doom!!!!