My research aims to provide a better understanding of the Disney-plastic assemblage and to propose more environmentally responsible alternatives to existing plastic practices to reduce plastic waste at Disney theme parks.
As supported by Latour (2005) and DeLanda (2006), no individual or decision exists in isolation, all situations and positions are influenced by human and non-human components of the assemblage. Environmental psychology also discusses how a person’s environment, the physical infrastructure and their personal relationships shape their behaviours.
Disney is one of the most popular brands in the world with considerable influence across the media and entertainment industry. The mission of The Walt Disney Company includes to “entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling…” (WDC 2022a). Disney theme parks are described as the ‘happiest place on earth’ and they provide the potential to imagine a better world. The opening quote from Disney’s 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report is to “inspire a better world through the power of stories” (WDC 2022b).
The Disney theme park environment is controlled to provide a specific experience, from the layout of the themed Lands to the performance delivered by its staff/cast. Disney is well positioned to influence the behaviour of its cast and guests, and indeed it acknowledges that it is reliant on their support to achieve its commitment of zero waste to landfill for the wholly owned and operated parks and resorts by 2030.
Disney has a long relationship with plastic, from the early emergence of both plastic and Disney post-World War II. I will explore how Disney has used plastic and how it influences plastic use. The Disney-plastic assemblage includes government bodies and policies, and Disney partners and sponsors, like The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola is one of the biggest consumers of plastic and, as the exclusive supplier of beverages in most of the Disney theme parks, has a role in shaping how Disney uses and supplies plastic items.
To better understand the Disney-plastic assemblage, I will review the literature, and use critical discourse analysis to examine the language used about plastic practices in Disney theme parks in documents and promotional material produced by Disney, government legislation and policies about plastic use, disposal and safety, and other media commenting on Disney’s plastic use, from the perspective of supporters and critics.
I will travel to the Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World Florida resorts and provide an auto-ethnographic account of my experiences with plastic in the theme parks. Disney owns and operates the parks in the United States and France. While it also has parks in Japan, Hong Kong and China, it does not wholly own nor operate these parks. Therefore, the Disney commitment to eliminate waste to landfill only applies to its US and French parks.
The United States and France have very different plastic waste legislation and practices. The European Union has implemented Extended Producer Responsibility, which means that producers need to take responsibility for packaging (Freinkel 2011). In 2014, the EU had a plastics recycling rate of approximately 30%, at the same time the US recycled less than 10% of its plastics (OECD 2018). A more recent study by Enck and Dell (2022) stated that the high of 9.5% recycling achieved by the US in 2014 was due to shipping most of its plastic waste to China for the purposes of recycling. Now that China has refused to take on other countries recycling waste, the US figure has apparently plummeted to 5%.
In my auto-ethnography I will document the plastics that I identify throughout the two Disney theme parks, from infrastructure to merchandise and disposable packaging for food and drinks. I will then focus in on the single-use plastics provided through retail and food and beverage outlets, explore the rationale for their provision in terms of the practices they enable as a Disney guest and the infrastructure, systems and technology in the park that support the provision of plastics. After considering the plastic practices and supporting structures, I will develop recommendations for reducing single-use plastics and implementing alternative practices that would provide a more environmentally responsible outcome, and help Disney achieve the goal of zero waste to landfill by 2030.
DeLanda, M. (2006) A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory and social complexity, Continuum, London.
Enck, J., & Dell, J. (2022). Plastic recycling doesn’t work and will never work, in The Atlantic. Retrieved 10 July 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/05/single-use-plastic-chemical-recycling-disposal/661141/
Freinkel, S. (2011). Plastic : a toxic love story, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
OECD (2018) Improving markets for recycled plastics: Trends, prospects and policy responses, OECD Publishing, Paris.
WDC (2022a) The Walt Disney Company – About, accessed on 15 July 2022 at https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/about/
WDC (2022b) 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, accessed on 27 February 2022 at https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/esg-reporting/