Low Waste Disney World

Let’s start by saying that I never intended to take so much time away from the blog as I have. I was really enjoying the posts I was doing in October and had a few more planned for while I was away. But, vacation happened. And then, election happened. And here we are mid-November and I’m just getting back into the swing of things.

If you follow my instagram, you saw at the end of October that I ended up going to Disney World with a friend. This isn’t a traveling during COVID post so I’ll get into that another time. Instead, I wanted to tackle some tips and tricks for staying Low Waste at Disneyworld.

Staying low waste while outside of your bubble can be challenging. Especially during COVID. In my opinion, approaching traveling with a rigid Zero Waste mentality is going to really take away from your experience but I think there are some easy no-fuss ways to both eliminate your waste and not feel held back. Though I talk about Disney here, I think these can be applied during any travel experience.

First off, Disney is actually very aware of the Plastic Crisis and has been taking steps to reduce their waste over the past several years. Their goals, which can be found here, state that they were looking to reduce the waste sent to landfills and incinerators by 60% in 2020. Their long term goal is to reduce the waste sent to landfills and incinerators by 90%, which is actually the corporate definition of zero-waste. They are also looking to reduce greenhouse gas emission and water waste; they eliminated single-use plastic straws and stirrers by 2019; and switched to refillable amenities in guest rooms, reducing plastic in guest rooms by 80% (this stat is from 2018 so may not be 100% accurate anymore. They still have refillable dispensers but new plastic has been added, for instance around the TV remote control so you know it was disinfected). Overall, your journey to eliminate single-use plastic at Disney and waste in general is certainly getting a bit of help. As a huge corporation and destination for travelers, it good to see Disney taking steps in the right direction. So, what else can you do?

  1. Pack your own coffee and mug- This tip can be 100% attributed to my friend, Melissa, who I was travelling with. I would have never thought to pack my own coffee but it ended up being a great trick! Having done Disney a few times, Melissa and I are big believers in taking our time in the morning and it’s nice to have coffee while we are getting ready. Our room came with a Keurig machine so we brought a refillable K-cup and our own coffee. I buy coffee beans in bulk so I pre-ground them and kept them in a reusable baggie. I did bring my own travel coffee mug but ended up using that for water. Instead, I purchased a mug on my first day to use in the room. It’s a great souvenir that is package free, plastic free (depending on which one you buy) and something that you will actually use. Note- coffee shops are not taking reusable mugs at Disney right now.
The Breakfast Protein Bowl with eggs and plant-based sausage, chocolate avocado toast and carrot ginger dressing at The Ale and Compass.

2. Take your time to enjoy Disney’s sit down restaurants: It can be very hard sometimes to pull yourself away from the fun of Disney to enjoy a sit down meal. Especially since Disney has a plethora of quick-service and snack options. Each meal you plan at a restaurant though is one less meal you have to worry about in terms of waste. All the meals we had at restaurants were served on real plates with real utensils that were wrapped in cloth napkins. Drinks were served in glasses and all straws were wrapped and served on the side if you didn’t want them. Eating at restaurants also comes with the added perk of AC. Trust me- Florida is hot. Especially when you are standing in line, under the sun, on pavement, with a mask. You will really come to appreciate those sit down restaurants in air conditioning with no masks. Also, the restaurants have amazing food! My favorites were brunch at Kona (their french press coffee and vegan biscuits and gravy), lunch/dinner at the Yak & the Yeti (Roasted Vegetable Bowl with tofu) and lunch/dinner at San Angel Inn Dinner (tacos). I could go on but this isn’t a Disney food blog, unfortunately. Plan these meals ahead of time to make your life easier.

DIY Snack Pack with items you probably have at home

3. Pack a Low Waste Snack Pack: Look, I get it- Disney has great snacks. Not snacking at Disney would be sad. Thankfully, most of the snacks you get in the park don’t actually come in plastic. Popcorn, churros, pumpkin spice Mickey waffles- those come in paper bags or boats. But, your still throwing stuff away and resources are needed to make those items.

Dole Whips may be too delicious to avoid but you can avoid using disposable utensils by bringing your own.

Also, not everything can be served in paper, like Dole Whips. I found it helpful to have a little Snack Pack kit with me. I packed a fork, a spoon (no knives allowed in Disney so leave that out), a cloth napkin and a reusable straw all stored in a reusable container. I didn’t buy any of this special for the trip. I used a fork and spoon from my utensil drawer (though this would be an awesome stocking stuffer), I already owned a Final Straw (Melissa bought hers at Bed Bath and Beyond), and used cloth napkins and a plastic container I already had. This doesn’t prevent waste completely. But you would be amazed how many times I used my own utensils and napkins and that cut down on what I was throwing away. Even Melissa borrowed my utensils at one point because the plastic ones she was given weren’t strong enough for your meal.

Apple fritter bites from Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival.

Plastic To-Go containers work great for this kind of kit. They are light weight and you probably have a few kicking around from your pre-zero waste life or that have accumulated during the pandemic as you try to support your fav restaurants. You also didn’t spend money on them so if they get lost, broken, banged up or left behind, you won’t be too sad. The reusable container not only holds your utensils but works great for taking left over snacks or meals back to your room. Especially at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, which has tons of things you’ll want to try. If you bring your own container, you can purchase more snacks, sample them and bring the leftovers back to your room for later. This is particularly helpful now since the parks close earlier and you may be back in your room earlier then you normally would.

Water bottle refill stations are rarer than you may think. This one is at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

4. Pack a Water Bottle: or 2, or 3. It gets HOT in Florida. I know I already said that but I feel like until you are sweating your butt off in line for Thunder Mountain, you just don’t believe it. Or you forget because your mind is trying to spare you the pain of remembering. Surprisingly, there aren’t as many water bottle refill stations as I expected. I asked the cast member at Animal Kingdom’s Conservation Station what the deal was (of course I did!) and she said that they are slowly adding them to the new additions to the parks as it’s a really expensive update. This checks out. You’ll find them in line at the Pandora ride, in line at Slinky Dog, and in public spaces at Galaxy’s Edge, all new additions. There is also one in Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe but for some reason, it was closed down for COVID. I’m not sure why- the others were open and functional. There are drinking fountains all over the park so fill up as best as you can there. Also, fill up as soon as you sit down in a restaurant. The wait staff is stretched thin right now because of the layoffs. They tend to be more attentive before your food arrives so dump that first glass of ice water right into your water bottle and then ask for refills when they come for your drink/food order. If you have a good water bottle, that water will stay icey cold for most of the day. Or for as long as your water lasts.

Halloween reusable bag found at Disney; Foldable Skull reusable bag found at Whole Foods

5. Pack your own reusable bags: If you are living a low-waste lifestyle already, this may seem obvious but I have to add it. I’m pretty sure Disney is 30% food venues, 30% rides and 40% shops so even if you aren’t a big shopper, you may suddenly feel compelled to buy sweatshirts, pins or mugs. Those plastic Disney bags can add up fast if you aren’t careful or prepared! I really like bags that fold up small so they don’t take up a lot of space in your bag. This 4Ocean bag is made of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and can clip to your backpack or purse (another good stocking stuffer!). The skeleton one in my picture was from Whole Foods several years ago, I think. I’ve seen similar ones in the seasonal section of Target, also. Carrying your own reusable bag is also helpful in identifying your bag if it’s lost. It’s really helpful to be able to say in your lost items report “Was in a black reusable skeleton bag” instead of “It was in a plastic Disney bag” like so many other people. Trust me, I speak from experience.

If you forget your reusable bag, Disney does offer their own reusable bags you can purchase. Above is the Halloween one I bought. Again, another useful and useable souvenir.

I wore cardigans in the restaurants which were all cool and air conditioned but they certainly didn’t last in the FL sun!

6. And last but not least, pack a lot of extra masks. I hate to be a broken record but it is hot in Florida. You sweat, a lot, especially with those masks on. This is probably going to be the longest amount of time you have had to consecutively wear a mask since the pandemic started and you are standing outside in the sun and heat. You are going to sweat through whatever mask you are wearing. Bringing several reusable masks, I’m talking possibly 2 a day, will prevent you from being tempted to buy fresh ones in the souvenir store (wrapped in plastic) or grabbing a disposable one. I actually packed a little container of laundry powder so I could wash mine in the sink if I went through them and they were too grimy to rewear.

What other tips have you found helpful while traveling somewhere new? Check back in on Friday and I will share the backpack I used on this trip, that I absolutely love and is made from recycled water bottles.

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