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Returning to Disney: theme park weaves eco-friendly spell

I found myself back at Disneyland Paris last weekend, a magical place I hadn’t explored since I was 12 years old. It’s interesting how, as an adult, you can experience a place in a whole new way.

The castle of Sleeping Beauty still stands tall, at the heart of the square. The animatronic dragon in its dungeon no longer frightens me. Parades are still organised five times per day in Main Street.

Parents with kids in pushchairs and teenagers all equipped with mobile phones record the dance routine of their favourite characters.

The iconic yellow-gold ballgown allowed me to quickly locate Belle on a rotating platform. The same goes for Merida with her bow and arrow. They are surrounded by a bunch of smiling and waving characters I’ve never seen before.

Judging from the crowd’s laughter, I’m in the minority. I guess I’m getting old.

The fact is, I’ve just celebrated my 35th birthday and find myself at a strange half-way point where nostalgia feels safe and surreal at the same time. It means I’m re-evaluating a lot of things I thought I was sure of, while filling in the blanks.

As a kid, for example, I was captivated by the colourful spectacle that is Disney. I didn’t consider what goes on behind the scenes of this major tourist attraction raking in EUR 1.8 billion in revenue every year from 9.7 million visitors. On the heels of the pandemic, the park is now celebrating its 30th anniversary with a strong focus on sustainability.

Strong momentum

Let’s start with the recycling stats. The waste generated at Disney on a daily basis is staggering; 25 000 tonnes of food scraps, packaging, bottles and cans, broken toys, nappies, discarded accessories and deflated balloons. The park is working on diverting 60% of recyclables from landfill and incinerators. Currently, the recycling rate hovers around 45%.

There is a silver lining. I was told that over 140 tonnes of plastic or aluminium drinks containers, 310 tonnes of glass and more than 2 015 tonnes of cardboard are recycled every year – ‘And the numbers are increasing.’

This is partly thanks to the dedicated green bins and recycling bins dotting the manicured (and very clean) lanes leading to all 55 rides. Shopping bags used at Disney include 80% recycled plastic fibre.

Additionally, Disney collaborated with waste management company Ecovidrio to boost glass recycling at 120 locations across France and Spain via specially designed glass collection containers in the style of Mickey Mouse and friends Marvel and Pixar.

The slogan of the new campaign is ‘Dreams matter more than ever… and so does recycling’. The idea is to make throwing out jars and bottles more fun and memorable to instil the recycling habit in kids.   

Parking our car, I was pleasantly surprised to see countless solar panels installed overhead. I looked up the number and 46 000 units are currently active. The solar park is being expanded to one of the biggest in Europe with a capacity of 36 GWh a year by 2023. This is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of a town with 17 400 inhabitants.

Circle of life

A National Geographic documentary – highlighting the elements of earth, water, air, fire and ice – playing at the Disney theatre perfectly rounds out the celebration of our world. It’s clear the Paris resort is trying hard to keep the ‘magic’ of nature alive and sustainable for the generations to come.

Our group ended the two-day tour of the park by watching the Disney Illuminations show. Experiencing this seamless combination of 3D light projections (onto the castle), lasers, drones, fireworks and pyrotechnics was the highlight of the trip. The soundtrack (partly in French, which was amusing) ensured the thousands gathered on the square were listening intently.

Such an event demonstrates the art of storytelling and the power of uniting people in believing a positive narrative. As a writer, I’m happy to have a say. To be able to reach and help educate people, build awareness and foster understanding. As the famous Lion King song says: ‘It’s the circle of life that moves us all’.

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