Great Job, Disney! Now, Here's What Else You Can Do for the Environment

by - Thursday, July 26, 2018

This month, we are fighting plastic pollution by writing companies we think could be doing a lot more to help the environment. The challenge for you is to write at least 5 of these letters yourself! Tell the businesses you love to break up with plastic for good!

Disney Gave Up Plastic Straws! What they can do next for the environment

Dear Disney Parks,

When I read that the Disney Parks were giving up plastic straws this morning, I was so excited! 175 MILLION fewer pieces of plastic a year is AMAZING (as long as there are still some straws for the people who request/need them)! Even better, you taking a stand continues to set a standard for all businesses to use fewer plastics and use greener options instead.

I just visited Walt Disney World a month ago, and we were so excited when on our first day, we got paper straws at Animal Kingdom. But the rest of the parks didn't do it! It was heartbreaking to see, and it only made me notice the epic amount of plastic waste you are creating all over the parks, from the toys, to the TERRIBLE plastic bags (seriously, a park with every inch designed, where everyone is carrying these ugly bags?), to the silverware, and more. In fact, I wrote a post to help Disney visitors avoid the waste, because it was so ubiquitous.

I just saw waste everywhere, and we know you can do so much better. 

You yourself point out that taking care of the environment has always been a part of who you are as a company. I have also always been struck on how mindful you are of creating mindful and innovative solutions to problems you come across in any other park. Those two parts of the Disney spirit can come together by setting a new, greener standard for everyone. You have the resources and the epic efficiency to set big goals and actually achieve them, and this could save the Earth (and your business, clientele, etc) for generations to come. Nothing could be more important for your business or our collective future.

I loved reading your environmental goals, and I think your longterm goal of "attaining a net zero greenhouse gas emissions and zero waste, while conserving water resources" but from what I saw on my trip this June, there is a long way to go. So many of us, individuals and companies, have blind spots about the harm we are doing. And we maintain poor habits, because it's just what we have always done.

So I want to point out some of the key sources of waste you could still address to get you closer to your goals. The emissions of the stuff you manufacture and ship across the world. The waste of all those plastic bottles and utensils. The emissions of the food you serve. It all matters, and all of these areas offer you opportunities to get better. You have taken great steps, but there are many steps left to take.

I am elated about the changes you are making and your commitment to the environment. That said, there is a hell of a lot more to do, and you can keep making This rather long list is only the tip of the iceberg, but these are all attainable goals:

Disney Gave Up Plastic Straws! What they can do next for the environment

Skip More than the Plastic Straws

I am so glad you are completely eliminating polystyrene cups (and take out containers? I hope?), and that straws are almost done. But you can be much more aggressive in removing single use plastic from your parks.

You know that getting rid of single use plastic is vitally important, because you have already removed plastic straws. All plastic heads to either landfills or water, and it has become a key threat to animals everywhere. As many have noted, plastic has become a major ecological disaster for this generation, and we have produced more in the last ten years than in all of human history.About 50% of this is single use plastics, which has become a major part of your parks. All of your bags are plastic, most of your cups and straws are plastic, and I didn't see any compostable utensils either.

The amount of plastic waste your parks create is unthinkable, and just removing straws and stirrers doesn't address the full problem. 47 million visitors head to Disney World a day. Even at our most conservative guess, you are still tossing 150 MILLION pieces of plastic a year without the straws. And honestly, it is probably in the 100 millions. If the next generation is struggling to find clean water or are all suffering from endocrine system problems because their water is poisoned with plastic, they probably don't have time to come to your park.

All of your single-use plastics can be replaced with better options. Only use recycled paper bags instead of plastic. Compostable utensils are also pretty easy to come by. Switches are already readily available- use them! It may be more expensive, but it is an investment in your future visitors. Do it soon, before plastic chokes out us all.

Have a Featured Reusable Water Bottle (Help Promote Reuse)

Florida is freaking hot- we spent our whole trip sweating! For that reason, I saw people left and right chugging from single-use plastic bottles. I know you have paper cups of water available at every restaurant, but often the lines are long and people would rather have water bottles with them. So there are single use bottles everywhere.

Well, I think there is a better idea.

You are geniuses of promoting. What if every year, you had a feature reusable bottle. You could have an option or two each year as the perfect souvenir and collector item for diehard Disney fans. You could even partner with an amazing American-made company like Liberty Bottleworks. You already offer refillable cups at the resorts which we used a bunch and saw that people loved to carry with them. This just takes that idea and makes it accessible (and collectable) for everyone who visits the park.

Then, be bold and stop selling single use water bottles. People would still have access to cups, reusable bottles, and anything they bring with them, but cut water out of your single use bottles. How could you make this work in the parks if people hate waiting for water cups? I have an idea...

Add Water Bottle Refilling Stations EVERYWHERE 

(Imagineer the Heck Out of It)

Have you been to the airport lately? So many of them now have fountains for refilling your water bottle. On the fountain, they have these little trackers that keep count of how many bottles they have refilled (and how many single-use bottles were kept out of landfills). 

Those little counters are pretty awesome. I mean, they leave you feeling like you did something good, and you can see how this little good decision is adding up.

You could do a world of good by adding similar refill stations all over your parks (instead of selling water bottles). It will be the perfect place for people to refill their bottles, but you could also, in your Disney way, come up with a tracker or counter that gives people that positive feeling when they fill up their bottle. You could make it a competition between the parks each day even!

This is not one that will make you more money, but like so many of the little thoughtful things you do at the park, it will warm the hearts of your guests and make their visit that much smoother. Plus keeping thousands of water bottles out of the landfills a year. Not too shabby.

Think Recycled, Not Recyclable

The first souvenir I bought at the park was handed to me in an unecessarily big, gaudy plastic bag. When I asked your completely lovely cast member whether there was another option, she said no, but that the bag could be recycled.

Sigh. Having the possibility of being recycled does not make packaging green. We know that only 9% of plastics are actually recycled, and even your parks had a shockingly low number of recycling receptacles.

You say in your post that you will "reduce" plastic bags. Reduce? How about eliminate and replace them all with recycled (and recyclable and compostable) paper bags? I think that with a cool, maybe vintage-feeling design on it, you could add to the ambiance of the park while eliminating that waste. If there are items you think still need to be carried in plastic, why not make recycled plastic bags? No new plastic is needed ever.

For that matter, how about selling an eco-friendly and recycled line of toys! You could partner with the geniuses at Green Toys and make something really special (and good for this Earth).

Disney Gave Up Plastic Straws! What they can do next for the environment

Manufacture (Everything) in the US

We were at Disney World the week leading into the 4th of July, so there was patriotic merchandise all over the place. I am all for items that express people's pride in their country, but I have a big issue with what you were selling:

None of it was made in America. In fact, I couldn't find any non-food items that were made in the US in the whole "World."

This breaks my heart for so many reasons. First, because the thousands of items you sell at these parks are all made in foreign countries because they allow lower wages and lower standards. I don't care how cute a Mickey shirt is, if it is made in Poverty, it isn't worth it. If every store is filled with evidence of another human being's mistreatment, it doesn't exactly seem like the Happiest Place on Earth to me.

 Not to mention, if you added 10% of American-made merchandise, you could create so many American jobs, supporting the primary population that frequents your parks. Just saying.

But even more importantly, every object that is made in lower labor standards tend to come with lower environmental standards as well. Then, each object is wrapped in plastic and shipped halfway across the world to Florida, wasting thousands of gallons of fossil fuels in the process. The closer an item is manufactured, the less negative impact it has.

I very much doubt you would ever solely sell made in America items, but why not choose some to make here? And point it out, so Earth-loving Disney visitors can see what their most ethical options are easily? Maybe the day is not coming where everyone will care about this (even if they should), but if they do care, you should have lots of options for them.

Continue to Be a Star of Solar Power

I remember being so excited about your giant Mickey-shaped solar farm in Florida, but I think replicating that success could be a profound way to have a positive impact. How can you make even more of Disney World solar powered? What about your other parks? Right now, you are at 41% lowered emissions, but if you make solar power central to your parks, I bet you could get that number much lower.

Green Your Fleet of Buses

If you asked my two little boys what their favorite part of Disney World was, they would probably start naming off the transportation! And I love it too (but for totally different reasons).

Your excellent public transportation systems, especially for people staying on the resorts, probably saves thousands of pounds of CO2 from the environment. We didn't have to rent a car, and all of our transport was shared. It also worked almost perfectly every time, we barely had to wait at all (minus one time in a thunderstorm, but it was character building). That is already an epically huge accomplishment and should be celebrated.

Now what if you took that huge win, and made it even greater? Finally switching to electric buses. I saw that you tested the idea way back in 2013, but have since replaced most of the fleet with conventional fossil fuel buses. While you are setting all these enormous (and excellent) goals, why not commit to switching over as this fleet needs replaced? You could save tons of money in the long run AND get your emissions down that much further!

No More Tiny Shampoo Bottles

I saw in your proposal that you plan to reduce in-room plastics by 90% in the next few years. My hope is that this includes eliminating those tiny travel shampoo, lotion, and conditioner bottles. All of those can easily be switched out for dispensers that can be refilled, eliminating HUGE amounts of plastic.

Even better, this simple move will hopefully be an inspiration and game-changer for hotels all over the country and world. It can be seen as the better, more ethical choice and will hopefully takeover as the norm. You could start a trend that keeps millions more bottles out of the landfills and water. Well done!
Disney Gave Up Plastic Straws! What they can do next for the environment

Make Money Off Your Merchandise Twice

This would be totally unprecedented, but looking at how many Disney buy and sell groups there are on facebook, I am convinced you could make a ton of money and help everyone shift their paradigm around secondhand shopping. Secondhand shopping keeps things out of landfills, cuts down on plastic waste (since new items are usually shipped in plastic, and cuts out fossil fuel use. Every item bought secondhand instead of new is a win for the environment.

But I think a secondhand Disney store would be a huge win for you as well.

A Disney thrift shop would require a small staff, no shipping, and a lot of financial rewards. It could be at Disney Springs, so vacationers could stop and sell back their old Disney-branded swag. That t-shirt that didn't get much use or the stuffed Mickey the kid never ended up taking to. You could only accept things in the best condition and still bring in new merchandise every day.

Then you sell it again. And you get to make money off of these souvenirs more than once! People would essentially be trading in old shirts for new ones, and you could make money off of that shirt a second time. I think it appeals to Disney fanatics too, because they can always check for stuff they may have missed the first time. Before I visited Disney, we bought our cute Disney gear secondhand (and after being there and seeing where things were made, I never bought anything new). You could be in on this business, as well as selling higher priced collectibles to those out to find them.

I can't think of any business that does anything like this, but you have always been a trendsetter, and I think it could be a game changer.

Disney Gave Up Plastic Straws! What they can do next for the environment

Introduce More and Better Vegetarian and Vegan Options

I couldn't help but notice that many of your restaurants, especially the quick dining options, have no or very few options for people who do not eat meat. This seems crazy to me, especially because you have a huge fanbase of park goers who are vegan- they even have their own (pretty awesome) Facebook page!

If you are committed to helping the environment, then providing and promoting meat-free options is another incredible way to do a lot of good. We know that the meat industry is one of the largest creators of waste, a key contributor to climate change (so much CO2 emission), and abuses many of our natural resources (not to mention many of the animals.

If you want to get ever closer to zero-emissions, you need to think of the emissions of the food you serve as well. 

I am not suggesting you make your parks vegetarian, as you are obviously hosting so many people with so many tastes. But what about making a commitment to serve less meat overall in the parks by replacing one meat option on every menu with something vegetarian or vegan? And you have such great food, certainly you can come up with more delicious options people would be excited about.

For example, we had dinner at a Quick Service restaurant in Hollywood Studios that basically only sold hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches. It was a food low point for sure (those hot dogs were gross), so why not make it better and do a cool caprese sandwich instead? Or even try some vegetarian hot dogs!?

If you want to have a more positive impact, give people more vegetarian options worth obsessing over! Vegetarian options that even the meat eaters will choose. If any place can rise to this challenge, it's Disneyworld.

Partner with Other Green Companies

You have some partners (I am thinking especially of those cartoon villains at Nestle) who take actively negative roles towards the environment and the people in it. Nestle steals water from the American people and packages it in environment-destroying, super toxic, never going to decompose plastic. They also target their nastiness at vulnerable populations, and are generally the worst. I don't want their Mickey Head ice cream bars of malice.

Want to show real gusto and resolve in saving our world? Stop partnering with companies like these and instead look for companies that are protecting the environment. If other businesses aren't stepping up, the amount of money you are working with certainly gives them a reason to.

Everything else you are doing is vital, but this piece of the puzzle could change everything for the better forever. Stop doing business with people who don't care for the environment, and let's see what magic can really take place.

As you said in your post today, doing right by the environment is an essential part of the DNA of Disney parks. Walt himself said: "conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us." Eliminating most plastic straws (hopeful you will still have some for people with disabilities) is a great step to take, but hopefully some of these ideas could also help in really helping you have a more positive impact on the world. There is a lot left to be done, but you are Walt Disney World! You can definitely do it.

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