The Walt Disney Company have taken great strides in becoming more environmentally friendly in the last few years, and this is great news for those looking for a more eco-friendly Disney vacation. There are, however, still a few areas where you might need to plan ahead if you’re looking to have a plastic free Disney World vacation, so read through these tips to keep plastic waste at Walt Disney World to a minimum on your next trip.
How to have a plastic free Disney World vacation
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1. Take reusable water bottles
We always travel to the parks with a stainless steel resuable water bottle for each of us; not only does this eliminate plastic waste in the form of plastic water bottles or cups, but it saves money. It also means we’re more likely to be constantly drinking water throughout the day, something that’s especially important in the hot, humid Florida summers.
There are so many great brands out there that make good quality reusable water bottles and not all of them are expensive, although I have found that you get what you pay for in terms of quality (I have the Hydro Cell Stainless Steel water bottle, and the kids currently have Camelback Stainless Steel kids water bottles).
We refill our water bottles at the water fountains, plus more and more quick service locations have water on a fountain that you can use. You can ask for water at any quick service location but they won’t refill water bottles for you, they’ll hand you a cup of water and you’ll have to transfer it yourself (which makes sense for sanitation reasons, but kind of defeats the purpose if you’re trying to avoid using a disposable cup!)
2. Take reusable cutlery and straws
One of the main sources of plastic waste at Walt Disney World is their disposable table ware. Quick service locations often use plastic cups as well as plastic forks, knives, and spoons, all of which are tossed once they’ve been used. You can avoid adding to this plastic waste by bringing in your own reusable products.
I travel with reusable silverware so that we don’t have to use plastic cutlery. I’ve been doing this with the kids since they first started eating out because often the silverware provided was too big for them anyway, but now I bring my own reusable cutlery as well. I usually bring a couple of sets if I know I’ll be out for the whole day and likely to eat more than one meal because there’s really no way to easily clean reusable silverware properly on the go, and if you really wanted to save space you could always bring a reusable spork!
There are tons of options out there for reusable silverware sets; I bought these bamboo travel utensils because they came in a pack of two, but if you’re OK with bringing a spork instead of individual utensils, this 8-pack of sporks would be good for the whole family!
Walt Disney World finally moved away from plastic straws and now only carry paper straws, and while this is great for the environment, anyone who has tried to drink a frozen drink through a paper straw knows how fast those things fall apart!
I usually don’t need a straw, but since I have sensitive teeth I like to have one for frozen drinks, and my kids often ask for straws, so we travel with a pack of reusable stainless steel straws. There are lots out there to choose from (we travel with these stainless steel reusable straws) but I would strongly recommend buying one that comes with a cleaning brush so you can clean them out after use.
3. Take a rain jacket instead of buying a poncho
I’m not a fan of ponchos at all; I never think they do a great job of actually keeping you dry and I always get so hot wearing them, it’s like wearing a mobile greenhouse! Add in to that the fact that the Disney ponchos are pretty expensive for what is essentially a large piece of plastic, and there are definitely better options out there!
Since I don’t like ponchos at all, if it looks like it might rain then I travel with a lightweight rain jacket. If you’re going this route, then there’s a few things to keep in mind. The first is the lightweight part; you definitely don’t want anything heavy or that is designed to keep you warm, you’ll overheat really quickly. The second is that you want something that folds up as small as possible so that it doesn’t take up much room in your bag. Lastly, ideally try to find a jacket that comes with a little carry bag; not only will that makes it easier to fold up as small as possible, but you can put it back in its bag after the rain stops and the rest of your belongings won’t get all wet.
If you really do want to bring a poncho, then I would recommend picking up a few before you go and just reusing them to save on waste. You can buy cheap ponchos from the Dollar Store, or get a multi pack of ponchos online; either way, I guarantee they’ll be cheaper than Disney!
4. Purchase a reusable shopping bag
Disney has also introduced reusable shopping bags, which are not only a great way to avoid using plastic shopping bags but make for a cute souvenir you can use when you get home! The reusable bags come in a variety of sizes and there are different designs depending on which park you’re in, so you could collect them over the course of your trip or just pack them in your bag to take with you each day (because chances are you’ll be buying at least one thing each day that requires a bag!) The bags are very affordable at just a few dollars each, and I use mine each week when I go grocery shopping!
5. Buy plastic free Disney World souvenirs
Walt Disney World has no end of amazing souvenirs to remember your trip but there is also no end of plastic junk (which I’m totally guilty of having bought as well!) If you want a plastic free Disney World vacation, there are plenty of great options that you could go for instead of bubble wands, with everything from Disney mugs to clothing to really unique Disney souvenirs like art work or Christmas ornaments. You could even go completely zero waste and collect pressed pennies! These souvenirs are going to last longer so you can remember your trip for as long as possible.
6. Purchase a Magic Band
If you’re staying in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel then you automatically get a Magic Band included in your package, so you’re good to go! But if you’re staying offsite or you’re a local or for any other reason you don’t have a Magic Band, I would consider purchasing one. If you don’t, then when you enter the parks you will be handed a plastic card that will act as your ticket, and this is pretty unnecessary. Park tickets can be linked to a Magic Band to avoid the plastic ticket, and you can pick a cute design to keep as a souvenir or use again on a future trip.
7. Eat at table service restaurants instead of quick service
Walt Disney World has some great food options at the parks, resorts, and especially dining at Disney Springs, and if you’re looking to have a plastic free Disney World vacation then I would suggest eating at table service restaurants instead of quick service. Most quick service restaurants at Walt Disney World will serve their food on disposable plates which are often made of plastic, and those will just be thrown away after use. Table service restaurants will obviously be using real tableware and silverware, meaning there will be no plastic waste.
There are however some quick service restaurants that serve their food on something other than plastic plates. Satu’li Canteen in Pandora – The World of Avatar, Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom, and Docking Bay at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge all use real plates and silverware so you can avoid plastic waste.
8. Take your own snacks with you
Not only is this a big money saver, probably a healthier option, easier for kids that might be a bit picky or have allergies, but it is also a great way to have a plastic free Disney World vacation. A lot of Walt Disney World snacks come in plastic bags or are wrapped in plastic (things like rice krispie treats and candy apples) and avoiding them means less plastic waste.
We have a set of stainless steel food containers and reusable storage bags that we bring with snacks in – things like dried fruit, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, etc all travel really well, and we often bring big bags of them to the hotel to fill the small containers every day. These containers take up very little space and are one of those things that you probably wouldn’t think you needed for you Disney parks packing list but are a great idea for many reasons!
9. Recycle as much as possible
Chances are, there are going to be one or two occasions where you end up either buying something made or plastic or something plastic is given to you unintentionally. It’s not the end of the world – I don’t know many people who are completely plastic free, and what matters is our intentions. But if you do end up with a plastic water bottle or something similar, look out for the recycling bins all over the Disney parks; these are the perfect place to put your plastic waste.
Walt Disney World recycles over 125,000 tons of materials every year, and aim to have 60% of waste diverted from landfills by the end of this year. You can contribute to that by recycling all that you can, making sure that regular trash doesn’t go in the recycling bins, and reusing products wherever possible.
10. Don’t buy the balloons!
This is definitely a controversial one but I’m going to say it anyway: don’t buy balloons at Disney! Balloons in general are so bad for the environment; if you let them go and they float away then they end up as trash, sometimes in the worst possible places where animals can find them and think they’re food, and if you throw them away, they’re just more plastic waste. The ones at Walt Disney World are also really expensive and end up kind of being in the way throughout the day. There are so many other great souvenirs or ways to spend your money at Walt Disney World that if you can avoid balloons, it’s probably best.