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What happens to All the food a Disney

During Earth Month, Disney Parks is excited to educate guests about its tremendous efforts to reduce food waste at all of its properties worldwide and how they can do their part to make their park visits as eco-friendly as possible.

To that end, Disney recently launched its Disney Planet Possible program, which encompasses not only food waste diversion, but all of the actions the company is taking toward building an environmentally balanced and sustainable future.

As you might imagine, every Disney park produces an incredible amount of food items each day. From those iconic outdoor vending items (churros, pretzels, popcorn, turkey legs and much more) to the panoply of dishes on offer at its gourmet restaurants.

One wonders what becomes of the uneaten perishables and leftover food scraps that must inevitably come from feeding thousands of guests on a daily basis.

As it turns out, after food has gone from farm to kitchen, the lifecycle of leftovers and unsold edibles is still far from over. Those comestibles are given a second life, going to feed families in need and even producing energy to run park operations.

Plus, diverting food waste away from landfills not only helps address food insecurities and renewable energy but also averts organic decomposition, which produces greenhouse gases 25-times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“Across Disney Parks, we are committed to reducing food waste with a goal of zero waste to landfill,” explained Chef Michael Gonsalves, a chef at Walt Disney World Resort. “To aid in this effort, we try to maximize food waste diversion. Pushing the bar on food quality and innovation is one thing, but most important is the consideration of our carbon footprint and its impacts on our world. The vision and dedication to drive to sustainable zero-waste models should be the goal for everyone on this planet if we plan to see it thrive for generations to come.”

Separate waste receptacles at Disney Parks, part of the 'Disney Planet Possible' program. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks)

Food Reclamation

After food scraps are collected from designated “organic” waste bins (this is where guest participation comes in), they might be used in any number of ways. Eligible leftovers can be recycled into products that help feed farm animals. At Walt Disney World in Florida, the bits that can’t be used as feed go to an off-site composting facility, where they break down naturally and are converted into a nutrient-rich soil material that’s used as fertilizer for plants or farm facilities, on-property or elsewhere. In fact, Walt Disney World Resort composted 15 million pounds of unusable food scraps in 2021 alone.

If you’ve ever taken the Grand Circle Tour on the Disneyland Railroad, you may notice the smell of fries seems to follow you wherever you go. That’s because its five authentic steam trains (as well as the Mark Twain paddlewheeler) run on biodiesel, derived from cooking oil used at the resort’s restaurants, which replaces roughly 200,000 gallons of petroleum diesel each year.

For its eco-conscious innovations thus far, Disneyland Resort was recently awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Food Recovery Challenge Award”, as well as its “SEAL Business Sustainability Award” for environmental initiatives in managing food waste.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disneyland utilizes different processes to turn its food scraps into usable energy by diverting organic waste to the government’s anaerobic digestion facility—360 tons of it in 2021 alone. And, Disneyland Paris transforms up to 93 percent of its food waste into recovered energy through a process called biomethanization.

The statistics on food waste in America are absolutely astonishing. More than one-third of all food produced in the U.S. every year never gets eaten. It constituted the country’s single most commonly landfilled and incinerated material, accounting for 24 and 22 percent of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively. The wasted resources that go into producing that unused food are staggering—enough water and energy to supply over 50 million homes, an agricultural land area equivalent to California and New York state combined, and enough fertilizer to grow all of the plant-based foods for human consumption in the whole U.S.

Disney VoluntEARS at a warehouse sorting and packaging foods for donation. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks)

Hunger Relief Efforts

Meals that have made it to the kitchen to be prepared, but weren’t served, are donated to local food banks and funneled to needy families through hunger-relief networks. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Disney Parks has donated more than $14.6 million worth of food to worldwide hunger-relief organizations, the equivalent of over 2.1 million meals.

In 2021, Walt Disney World Resort donated more than 550,000 pounds of unused prepared foods to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. To make it happen, Disney VoluntEARS spent almost 3,000 hours sorting and packing meals and food items to be delivered throughout the region.

“We’re incredibly thankful for the support Walt Disney World Resort and its Cast Members have shown us over the years,” said Greg Higgerson, Chief Development Officer at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. “It’s because of this support that we’re one step closer to closing the gap of unmet needs in Central Florida.”

Also, over the course of 2021, California’s Disneyland Resort provided over 90,000 meals to the surrounding community, while Hong Kong Disneyland partnered with Foodlink Foundation to create the Disney Meal Box Express. Since June 2021, roughly 12,500 healthy, freshly cooked meals have been prepared, packaged and delivered to those most impacted by the pandemic across four Hong Kong districts through the program. Over 200 Disney VoluntEARS and members of the park’s Food & Beverage team come together weekly to make it happen.

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