A bag of bottles and rubbish awaits recycling. Photo by Roberta Cruger.
Inside the Innoventions pavilion at Disney World's Epcot Theme Park, Elizabeth Royte, the author of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It took a ride on the "Don't Waste It" exhibit sponsored by Waste Management, Inc. This "interactive playground" offered a gander at the "Think Green" campaign of North America's largest garbage company. In a recent issue of NRDC's magazine, OnEarth, her story, "Disney(waste)Land," describes her trip through the trash cycle.
Royte joined families romping though the 100,000-square-foot maze, curious to see how Waste Management could make sanitation engineering environmental and fun. First, it was established that they'd all made garbage that day (it's highly likely that guests of at Disney World have eaten or bought something). Then everyone's "personal trash profile" was calculated. The object of the "Don't Waste it" game is to transform one's garbage footprint into energy.
Evening the "green score"
Visitors navigate through the phases of the game: Sort It Out (recycling), Fuel the Burn (disposal), and Landfill Up, where players chose between creating a golf course, a ballpark or a nature reserve from the full (a.k.a closed) landfill. Of course, Royte's Team Leachate turned its pile of rubbish into a green landscape. She questions landfill as wildlife habitat, waste incineration and methane gas as renewable energy, but notes:
Reminding visitors that we must tread more lightly on the planet is a tricky line for Disney to walk. Folks are here to have fun, after all...the point of "Don't Waste It" isn't so much to inform visitors as to leave them feeling that everything is A-OK, trashwise.
Though showing a simplified process, facts, and figures inform attendees about good waste management: Americans fill 60,000 garbage trucks a day and 3.5 million tons of recycled paper saves 41 million trees. Royte questions the upbeat cleaned-up world as a form of greenwashing. What about issues like toxic incinerator ash and dioxin-laced soil, she wonders. With a lack of solar panels and low-irrigation landscaping, she takes Disney to task about its commitment to what it calls "environmentality," asking, "Compostable Finding Nemo backpacks, anyone?"
Is the Garbage Fairy Flailing?
Eric Goodman, of Disney's Imagineering, headed up the team that designed the "Don't Waste It" exhibit, says he tried to show the hidden half of the trash story:
We're really good at filling trash cans and recycling bins a few times a week and dragging them down to our curb. But after that, well, I think we all believe a "garbage fairy" makes the trash magically disappear. We assume the trash we see isn't our garbage; that's everyone else's garbage.
Expecting the PR display to smack of lipstick on a pig, Royte makes the point that Waste Management's record-breaking earnings last year depended on the amount of waste recovered. There's power in trash. But as reports of the economic downturn warn of a flattened recycling market, the question is will we trend toward dumping less or less consumption? Well, maybe not at the Happiest Place on Earth.
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