Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 30, 2004
It's a small clean world after all
Disney World's environmental stewardship merits greater recognition
By SUZANNE ELSTON
The first thing that struck me when we visited Disney World this spring was how spotlessly clean everything was. Given my passion for the environment, the second thought that crossed my mind was, "How do they keep it that way?"
It has taken me almost three months to find out, but after several phone calls and countless emails, I finally had an opportunity to talk with the right people at Disney World about the company's environmental stewardship programs. It turns out that at Disney, beauty isn't only skin deep.
Food compostingPerhaps the most impressive of the Disney programs is the recently developed food composting system which is currently working at capacity processing about half of the 35 tons of food waste generated daily in the park's restaurants. Bob Colburn, Disney World's manager of environmental initiatives, explained they are working on a process to allow them to remove more water from the food waste, and therefore recover a greater percentage of the solids.
The 16 to 18 tons that is currently recovered daily is mulched, mixed with wood chips and fed into long tunnels called reactors. The natural organic breakdown process takes about 16 days and generates temperatures up to 55 to 60 degrees Celsius. The material is then cured for another two weeks.
Meanwhile, Disney's biosolids operation is busy collecting the 50 wet tons of biosolids (i.e. human waste) that is generated daily. This muck is mixed with mulched landscape waste from the park (i.e. plant and tree material), and cured for 28 days. The composted food material is used to cover the curing biosolid/mulch mixture during this process.
The next stage is to screen the biosolid materials to remove the plant mulch. (This is recycled for the next batch of biosolids.) The finished biosolids are then blended with the food compost and cured for another 14 days.
The finished compost is used in a variety of ways, both inside and outside the Disney World compound. Some of it is sold to local citrus growers who use it as ground cover to reduce their water needs. The bulk of the material is spread on the extensive roadways and backstage areas throughout Disney World. Only a small portion is blended into park gardens. This is because the high salt content from the food waste doesn't make it suitable for many of the more exotic plants that are seen in abundance around the theme parks.
While I didn't get a direct answer to my question about the cost effectiveness of the composting system, I did learn it helps Disney meet 50 per cent of Florida's state-wide recycling goal of 35 per cent.
The good news is that the composting system is only one of many environmental stewardship programs ongoing at Disney World. The newest park in the complex is Animal Kingdom, where conservation and preservation are central themes throughout many of the attractions. As Kim Sams, manager of conservation initiatives, explained, it was important to walk the talk and make greater conservation efforts throughout the Disney World complex.
For example, 1,180,000 pounds of used cooking oil are sent every year to a rendering company and recycled into everything from cosmetics to animal feed. That's a lot of French fries.
Welcome lady bugsWhile the vast flower gardens at the various parks aren't totally organic, Disney World does have a pesticide reduction program that utilizes natural pest controls, such as ladybugs. The release of the ladybugs attracted so much attention, it has become a guest event, involving and educating young visitors in the process.
Disney World also presents annual environmental leadership awards for its cast members (a.k.a. staff). This year alone, 181 employees were rewarded for their stewardship.
Disney's efforts have benefitted the larger community as well. Disney's Harvest Program annually donates an estimated 600,000 pounds of leftover prepared food (i.e. not used) to a Second Harvest food program.
The Gift for Teaching Program donates paper, pens and pencils to local schools and a computer recycling program services older, but still usable computers for student use as well.
"We happen to take our pluses out into the community," said Bob Colburn proudly.
While I have to admit that I'm impressed with all of Disney World's environmental initiatives, what's missing is making the information about these efforts more public.
While Disney chooses to keep its attendance figures private, an unofficial estimate places that number at 37.8 million visitors annually, or over 100,000 people every day.
With numbers like that, Disney World has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to its visitors that each one of them can make a difference. It's a small world, after all.
Recommended websites:For more about Disney's environmental policies, visit www.DisneysEnvironmentality.com. Information on Disney's conservation efforts can be found at disneywildlifefund.com.
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