How Environmentally Sustainable is Disney World?
With so many people taking action to help reduce their environmental impact on the planet when thinking about taking a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth just how environmentally sustainable is Disney World?
"Conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us."
- Walt Disney
The great news is in 2020 Disney World was voted by Uswitch to be the world's most eco-friendly tourist attraction! In fact three Disney Parks made the top 10 list!
Disney World came out on top by scoring 56 out of a possible 60 when looking at sustainable transport, renewable energy, wildlife efforts, recycling scheme, water reduction and low emissions.
So what measures do Disney take to help reduce their impact on the environment?
No Plastic Straws or Lids
Disney took the step to replace all plastic straws with paper straws, move away from plastic stirrers and remove plastic lids from fountain drinks.
Animal Kingdom Park had made the switch over a decade ago due to the harm plastic straws can cause to wildlife.
Since 2019 Disney World's single-use straws and stirrers have been plastic-free! Lids for fountain drinks are no longer provided to reduce the amount of plastic waste created by the parks.
These measures have been predicted to have eliminated 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers annually.
Switched to LED Lights
Disney World made the switch to more environmentally friendly LED lights. The stunning holiday display of lights on Cinderella Castle, which features 170,000 lights, was switched to LED lights and can now be run on the same amount of energy used for 4 pots of coffee!
Disney have also switched signs, decorations and tree lights to LED to save on energy.
In the Disney Resorts lighting has also been changed to energy-efficient LED lights.
Disney now turn off or dim external lighting once the parks are closed for iconic displays such as Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom, the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom Park, Mickey's Sorcerer Hat at Hollywood Studios and Spaceship Earth at EPCOT
Introduced Hundreds of Plant-Based Food Options
In 2019 Disney announced plans to roll out plant-based options across all Disney-owned restaurants.
A plant-based diet is the single biggest action an individual can take to reduce their carbon footprint, so it is amazing Disney are giving so many options to help people reduce their environmental impact!
With so many dishes to choose from there is something for everyone and so much to enjoy! Just look out for the leaf symbol on menus to know which dishes are plant-based.
Here is just a sample of the types of plant-based dishes currently on offer at Disney World:
Impossible Meatloaf and Warm Johnny Appleseed Cake at Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom
Plant-based Fish and Chips or Bangers and Mash at The Rose & Crown Dining Room in EPCOT
Toasted 'Lobster' Roll from Rosie's All-American Cafe in Hollywood Studios
Roasted Vegetable Bowl from Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom
Kung Pao Cauliflower from Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs
Plant-based Chili and Tots (plus a dairy-free milkshake!) from Beaches & Cream Soda Shop at the Beach Club Resort
Avocado Toast from The Wave...of American Flavors at the Contemporary Resort
Plant-based Blueberry Donuts from California Grill at the Contemporary Resort
Plant-based Loco Moco or Modified Tonga Toast from Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Village Resort
Wild Mushroom Scramble from Topolino's Terrace at the Riviera Resort
The iconic Disney World snack, Dole Whip, is plant-based as standard and now comes in a range of delicious flavours such as pineapple, lime, orange and raspberry!
Mickey Pretzels are an awesome plant-based snack and the famous buttery Disney popcorn is surprisingly totally plant-based (it tastes super buttery but in fact contains no butter!).
Other fan favourite dishes such as Mickey Waffles and Sanaa's Bread Service can be made plant-based on request!
If you have a sweet tooth be sure to visit Eric McKenna's Bakery NYC in Disney Springs. Everything available is vegan and gluten-free! Choose from cakes, pastries, cupcakes, desserts, ice creams and milkshakes. A must visit for sweet treats!
Check out my Guide to Vegan Options at Disney World which features a 50-page list of all the plant-based options available at Disney World! 50 pages! Disney sure are doing a lot to help make it as easy, and delicious, as possible to eat awesome plant-based foods whilst at Disney World!
Selling Reusable Cutlery and Cups
EPCOT has many amazing festivals throughout the year and food plays a big part in all of them!
One of the unique pieces of merchandise able to be bought is reusable cutlery sets. These sets are environmentally friendly and help reduce single-use utensils.
Disney make it super easy to bring your own reusable cups and tumblers to fill up with beverages during the day. They also sell their own range! You can find water fountains around the park to get free water.
If staying at a Disney Resort you can purchase refillable cups which you can use throughout your stay to get drinks, plus you can take the cup home as a souvenir! This helps to reduce single-use cups, bottles and waste.
Turning Food Waste Into Energy
Disney can be rather generous with the food portions, so what happens to the food that isn't eaten?
Any food waste from leftovers or food scraps and peels are taken to the Harvest Power biofuel facility and once processed biogas is created, a mix of methane and carbon dioxide, which is then combusted and turned into electricity that is then used to fuel Disney World. The leftover waste is then used as fertiliser. This process is called anaerobic digestion.
The fertiliser that is a by-product of this process is then sold locally. This is great because it means there is very little waste from the process and local farmers, businesses or people who grow their own crops and plants can use this special Disney food scraps fertiliser!
Donating Unused Food To Second Harvest Food Bank
We've seen what Disney does with food waste but what do they do with unused food items? Disney donates unused food items to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida under their Disney Harvest program. Disney provided over 1 million meals this way in 2019.
Second Harvest Food Bank has partnered with 550 feeding partners in Central Florida, so the Disney food items will make their way to locations such as food banks, shelters for women and homeless people, soup kitchens and after-school centers.
It is estimated that up to 40% of all food is thrown away in the United States so by partnering with such a worthy organisation Disney are doing their part to prevent food waste and ensure people who need food get it.
Using Recycled Materials
Disney are committed to reducing their impact on the environment and every year come up with ways to help implement this. Disney have switched to using recycled materials in a bid to achieve this. Disney bags are 100% recycled plastic and Photo Pass cards are 95% recycled materials.
Fun fact: many of the park benches found at Animal Kingdom are made of recycled milk bottles!
EPCOT Growing It's Own Food
If you have ever been on the Living With The Land attraction you will have sailed through the EPCOT greenhouses. The fertiliser from the biofuel plant mentioned above is used here to grow fresh produce. When riding this attraction you can actually see your food being grown!
You can dine on these Disney grown ingredients in Sunshine Seasons, The Garden Grill and select stalls during EPCOT's festivals.
The Disney Wilderness Preserve
The Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee is 11,500 acres is home to over 1000 species of animals and plants and includes 3,500 acres of wetlands. Disney worked with The Nature Conservancy, the State of Florida and other groups to buy this land, which was previously a cattle ranch, and rewild it into a wilderness preserve instead of the land being made into housing and commercial units.
By joining this project Disney helped to mitigate Disney World's future impact on the Central Florida ecosystem.
Disney also has areas of its own land designated for wilderness preservation. In fact out of the 40 square miles of Walt Disney World Resort property about a third is set aside as a dedicated wildlife conservation area!
In 2020 Disney World debuted a bus run on renewable fuel, called the eco coach.
The 'Up!' themed bus has information inside telling Guests about how the coach is run on renewable fuel.
In 2015 Disney buses switched to running on R50 fuel, made from 50% renewable diesel, made from non-consumable food waste and cooking oil, and 50% ultra-low sulfur diesel. This move reduced their emissions by 50%.
Hopefully even more eco coaches like the UP! themed bus will be rolled out in the future. Moving away from fossil fuels is what is ultimately needed so although moving to R50 was a step in the right direction a better source of renewable energy that doesn't involve greenhouse gases would be amazing.
Disney offers a whole range of complimentary transport for their Guests to help reduce the number of cars being used at Disney World. As well as the buses Disney also offer the infamous monorail, ferries and the newest mode of transport, the Skyliner, which is a cable car system that connects Hollywood Studios and EPCOT with a number of stops at Disney Resorts.
The Disney Railroad steam train is also run on biodiesel using cooking oil from Disney kitchens!
Disney Resorts Are Green Lodging Certified
Florida has its own system for rating how environmentally friendly a hotel is. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection created the Green Lodging Program, which recognises facilities that have made commitments to conserve and protect Florida's natural resources.
The criteria being looked at to become certified are:
Communication and Education (Customers, Employees, Public)
Waste Reduction, Reuse and Recycling
Indoor Air Quality
All the Disney Resorts have reached this goal and are officially Green Lodging Certified!
Conserving Water By Encouraging Guests To Reuse Towels
When staying at a Disney World Resort you will see signs that encourage you to hang up your used towel if you are happy to use them again. This saves on a huge amount of water compared to having to wash and clean all towels and bedsheets in every single room every day. There are over 30,000 Guest rooms at Walt Disney World which all hold multiple people so that is a lot of towels and bedsheets!
Disney also reduce their water consumption in a range of clever ways.
They deliberately landscape the resorts using plants that are native to the area and that require little to no water.
Disney golf courses are irrigated using reclaimed water that has been treated and reprocessed.
This reclaimed water is also used to wash the Disney buses and clean the streets of the parks and resorts.
Disney have stated that around 30% of the resorts overall need for water, and 80% of its need for irrigation, comes from reclaimed water.
It is estimated that more than 2 billion gallons of reclaimed water are used each year for these purposes. That is enough water to fill Spaceship Earth 129 times!
Solar Powered Parks
Walt Disney World has two massive solar power facilities. The largest is located near Animal Kingdom Park and is comprised of over half a million solar panels! This 50-megawatt solar power facility, situated on a 270-acre site, is capable of powering two entire theme parks! It generates enough power to power 10,000 homes a year.
There is also a 5-megawatt facility located near EPCOT that is shaped like Mickey! This smaller facility is based on 22 acres and is comprised of 48,000 solar panels. It has the capacity to power 1000 homes annually.
With these two sites combined up to 25% of Disney World Resorts power needs are met by solar energy.
The energy produced by these solar farms will actually go to the local power grid not directly to Walt Disney World Resort.
It is estimated that using these solar panels reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 tons annually.
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has contributed more than $20,000,000 towards conservation efforts throughout the world. They have planted over 3 million trees and protected 40,000 acres of coral reef and 65,000 acres of African Savannah
When visiting Animal Kingdom Park you will notice there is a lot of talk about conservation and how we can all play our part in protecting wildlife, nature and ecosystems. This is a very important feature of this park and hopes to inspire Guests to take an interest in wildlife and nature conservation.
New Train Line
A new train station has been proposed for Disney Springs and will connect Orlando with South Florida. It will also provide a link between Orlando MCO International Airport and Disney Springs. This will help many international and domestic visitors who fly into Orlando get to Disney World!
Train travel is significantly better for the environment than flying short distances or driving cars so this option will be fantastic for Florida residents visiting Disney World, Disney World Guests looking to explore more of Florida and people arriving at MCO airport who will be able to get a quick connection straight to Disney Springs.
The project is predicted to be completed in 2023.
New Goals Announced for 2030
Disney's CEO, Bob Chapek, recently announced the environmental goals the company for have set for 2030.
In a statement Disney stated:
“Disney has shown a strong commitment to the environment throughout its history and we’re excited to continue building on that legacy with new, ambitious environmental goals for 2030. These goals focus on key areas of our business where we believe we can have a significant, lasting impact and make a positive difference in protecting our planet.”
The goals include:
achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions for direct operations;
purchasing or producing 100% zero carbon electricity for all direct operations;
collaborating with industry groups and investing in low carbon fuel innovation;
investing in natural climate solutions;
implementing site-specific watershed stewardship strategies at high-impact sites;
serving 100% environmentally responsible seafood at U.S. parks and resorts;
working to achieve zero waste to landfill for Disney’s wholly owned and operated parks and resorts;
new construction projects to be designed to near net zero, minimize water consumption and support zero waste operations;
ensure all paper, wood and palm oil used in Disney-branded packaging and products is from certified sustainable sources;
ensure all branded product textiles contain recycled or certified sustainably sourced content, or are made from lower impact alternatives; and
reduce the Company’s plastics footprint across all businesses.
Around The World
Disney Parks around the world are also implementing strategies to decrease their impact on the environment.
At Disney California Adventure Park in Cars Land a range of solar panels are located on top of the Radiator Springs Racers ride. These solar panels help to generate electricity for the park.
Disneyland Paris is building a massive solar power facility which will reduce CO2 emissions by 750 tons a year. 67,500 solar panels will be installed as a canopy above the Disneyland Paris car park. As well as reducing emissions the canopy will keep cars in the shade from the sun or sheltered from rain. The work is set to be complete by 2023. An added bonus is a section will light up at night in the shape of Mickey!
Disneyland Paris already uses geothermal energy to power two parks and a hotel. It is also the only European theme park to have its own waste water treatment and recycling centre.
The French Disney park also has its own orchard with local species of fruit trees, two beehives to help with natural pollination and a vegetable garden that grows 15 types of organic vegetables, fruits and herbs.
In Tokyo Disneyland the Electrical Light Parade is fueled by solar panels which are located on eight rooftops in the park, generating more than 600 kilowatts of power.
Like Disney World LED lights feature heavily in these parks with icons such as Cinderella Castle, Mount Prometheus and 'it's a small world' being lit with these energy conserving lights.
One-sixth of Tokyo Disney Resort is set aside for greenery and there is a rigorous waste sorting process to help recycle as much as possible.
Shanghai Disney Resort has a combined cooling and heating plant that reduces emissions by 60% partly by converting waste heat into energy. There is also a water treatment plant that recycles and purifies water.
At Wishing Star Park there is a focus on conservation. Over 100 species of bird have been spotted here! The water from Wishing Star Lake is used to irrigate the vegetation found at Shanghai Disney Resort.
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort has a similar system to Disney World for turning food waste into energy using the anaerobic digestion process.
They also use on-site wood chippers to turn clippings from bushes and shrubs into organic mulch. This process helped Hong Kong Disneyland Resort to reduce 830 tons of waste in 2019.
Seeing how much Disney are putting into place to help reduce their environmental impact is such a positive step! You can visit Disney World knowing if the generous portions are too much your food will be turned into electricity, the Florida sun helps run the parks and your resort is Green Lodging Certified!
Disney are invested in taking further steps to improve their processes to reduce their environmental impact. I look forward to seeing even more innovative ways Disney will use to achieve this!