The Blue Ocean Network has covered ocean plastic pollution from a variety of angles, but mostly from the “Big Picture” view. We want to use our experience in Orlando, Florida to help you make your next vacation sustainable. Today, let’s talk about how you as an individual can help turn back the tide on plastics.
Our family recently took a much awaited trip to Orlando, Florida to pay our respects to Harry Potter and Avatar. We had never been there before. Our two girls were very excited, especially our youngest (she is an avid Harry Potter fan). (photo – Universal)
Our plans called for us to spend several days at Universal and then drive down the road to visit Disney World. So, what does a trip to Orlando have to do with plastic pollution, you ask?
How Sustainable are Theme Parks?
An important aspect of our trip was to report on how sustainable the big theme parks are. Do they have recycling bins visible and convenient? Do they offer drinks in plastic or in paper? Do they use recyclable food containers? What about cutlery? What happens at the hotels?
This might seem trivial. However, given the huge numbers of visitors to Florida’s theme parks, it is no small matter.
Multiplied by Millions!
Attendance figures for 2015 at Disney World will blow you away. The Magic Kingdom had nearly 60,000 visitors per day; Epcot had approximately 32,000; Animal Kingdom about 35,000; and Hollywood Studios had approximately 30,000 daily. Combined, that’s over 150,000 visitors each day! Even granted that some will visit more than one park in a single day, the figures are still very impressive. They add up to make Disney World in Orlando, the world’s largest theme park by attendance.
Universal’s parks have fewer visitors but the numbers are still huge, adding up to more than 20,000,000 in 2016. All this before they opened their newest attraction, Volcano Bay. We planned our trip in early November thinking it would be low-season. We were wrong. The hotels were booked solid, the lines were long, and the crowds overflowed. There does not seem to be a low-season in Orlando. It makes money all year round, except when a hurricane passes through; it takes an act of God to put a dent in Disney. (photo – Nerdism)
Millions of Visitors = Millions of Spoons
So how do all these visitors translate into plastic use? How many bottles, plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic plates, plastic knives, forks and spoons are used by each visitor? I don’t have a clue! You can imagine that the numbers are huge. Think in terms of 200,000 plastic spoons daily and you start to get an idea of the magnitude. Our little survey is admittedly anecdotal. We saw only a tiny slice of each vast property. However, our observations may prove interesting.
Both companies had recycling bins in their parks. The food and beverage vendors at Universal use plastic cups and straws for their soft drinks. Disney in the Animal Kingdom has drinking fountains to refill your own water bottles. For dispensing soft drinks, they use paper cups and paper straws. However, in the Magic Kingdom (also Disney), drinks were served in plastic cups with plastic straws. So, Disney seems to do a somewhat better job than Universal with plastic pollution reduction, but it is still mixed.
I have no way of knowing how much of the decision to use plastic is made by individual vendors versus park policy. Regardless, the result is obviously mixed and creates a lot of plastic garbage!
Really Big Ears!
When it comes to ears, Disney has the image all over Universal, especially really big “mouse” ears. Disney is filling some of its energy needs from a solar energy array! The panels are arranged in the form of Mickey Mouse–of course, what else would you expect? (photo – Disney)
What About the Hotels?
We stayed in Universal and Disney hotels to find out how they were different. The results were interesting.
The Royal Pacific Resort is beautiful and one of Universal’s three top hotels. It has over a thousand guest rooms (all the hotels are huge and they are building more) and it was booked solid. That means thousands of guests use their restaurants and bar services each day. So how did Universal stack up? (photo – Universal)
We did not find a lot of recycling bins around the hotel (maybe the bins were just too crass to fit the exotic decor). At breakfast, they offered only plastic plates. The cutlery was plastic as well and all packaged together in a plastic bag. That means if you need just a spoon to stir your coffee, you throw away a knife, fork, spoon and plastic bag. Universal’s top hotels are all “green” certified. In advertisements, they pride themselves on using paper and cardboard products instead of plastic. Our personal experience at the Royal Pacific was different to its marketing.
Again this might seem like a trivial matter. However, consider that 2,000-4,000 people a day eat breakfast in the hotel. Multiply this number by 5 pieces of plastic (plastic cutlery + bag + plate), and this equals 10,000 to 20,000 single use plastic items a day! Imagine further–that this is just ONE restaurant, in just ONE hotel, for just ONE meal, in just ONE day. We must consider also that plastic cutlery is often deemed too small to recycle. So it ends up in a land fill, or worse, in our waterways. (By the way, whatever happened to reusable plates and metal cutlery? Somewhere along the way it just became easier to throw away- rather than wash. That’s a bad message to send).
At breakfast in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, they served coffee in mugs that were both reusable and doubled as souvenirs to be taken with you. The plates were compostable! And, although the cutlery was plastic, they were supplied as individual pieces. We stayed in just one of the many Disney hotels. Animal Kingdom may have a stronger “environmental” message than other hotels; we can’t tell from our limited experience. Although this was just part of the picture, Disney could do more to ensure that its hotels are better at being truly “green” certified properties.
A Positive – Using Renewable Fuels
On a positive note, both Universal and Disney use some renewable energy sources. They each have huge fleets of buses that move visitors back and forth from hotels to parks. These fleets and their service vehicles all appear to operate on alternative fuels! For example, they use recycled cooking oil from their restaurants as a fuel additive.
Tips on how to be a Sustainable Tourist to Orlando and Beyond!
When planning your trip, check out websites that appraise the relative sustainability of each park and their hotels. Frommer’s website can help you understand what “green” hotel certification means. It’s useful to educate yourself on what to expect when you stay somewhere that’s “green” certified.
Expedia will list “green” sustainable hotels on their website. And more websites are appearing everyday. So there are resources out there, just do a bit of research. However, be aware of resorts falsely claiming “green” status. There’s a term for that; it’s called “green washing.”
Another thing you can do is speak up. If you see practices that are not sustainable, let the park or hotel management know that you are not happy. Your opinion matters and can effect change in how they run their business. After you get back home, you will probably receive one of those surveys asking your opinion on the experience. Let them know what you think. They have sent out the survey for a reason. They want your response, so give it to them.
We received a survey from Universal that asked for our opinion of the service at the Royal Pacific and suggestions for improvement. I took them up on their request and went into some detail on how they could improve their sustainability. I am still waiting for a response. However, I imagine that somewhere it is percolating.
The Most Important Take-Away!
Think of the millions of children that visit the Orlando theme parks with their families each year. The experiences they have strolling through the Magic Kingdom or Hogwarts will stay with them a lifetime. That makes these visits an unparalleled opportunity to educate our kids on the value of sustainability. Both Universal and Disney World have a lot of sustainable initiatives in the works. But, they also both have a way to go. (photo – groovyclaire)
On your next trip to Orlando check them out and make sure they have improved. If not, make your opinion heard. Make sure to share it with us here at the Blue Ocean Network. Your voice matters. So keep up the noise and have fun on your next “sustainable” vacation!
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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