Reducing Waste At An Amusement Park

Amusement parks are notoriously wasteful places.  The mass produced food served on disposable plates with plastic disposable utensils. The useless trinkets and single use snacks that line gift shops. The massive, cheaply made stuffed animals that hang awaiting to be won for $50 worth of carnival game play. Not to mention all the energy and water that go into running the place. Some parks are doing a better job at trying to be greener than others but overall, amusement parks come with an environmental cost.

Here’s the situation though – roller coasters are fun. There’s a joy that comes from being flung all around and upside down while also having the peace of mind that you aren’t going to go barreling to your death in the process. Then you take places like Disney which hit you right in your nostalgia spot, with sights and sounds that remind you of being a kid. I get it. I always considered myself an amusement park enthusiast. Heck, I even worked at our local park for two summers while I was in college, operating one of the best rides in the park. So no judgements here if you enjoy spending your summer months hoping on and off coasters.

Just because you enjoy going to the amusement park, doesn’t mean you have to be wasteful when you are there. You can play a part in reducing some the waste that amusement parks create. While there isn’t much you can do about the energy usage (besides simply refusing to go or writing your park requesting sustainable improvements), you are in control of what you choose (or choose not to) buy or do. With a little bit of planning and a few earth conscious decisions, you can have your fun, reduce waste and save money too!

Step 1: Bring your own!!
Water bottles, drink cups, snacks, meals – whatever you can realistically bring with you, bring it. Not only will you reduce waste and probably eat/drink a lot better but you’ll also save a lot of money in the process because park food is EX-PAN-SIVE! (PAN intended).  And who doesn’t love saving money after dropping like $80 or more just on admission?!

Recently our little family of three spent two separate days at our local amusement park as part of an employee appreciation event through my husband’s work.  Part of the package included a meal voucher, drink and snack per guest.  For our first visit, I knew my husband wanted to take full advantage of the free extras, so I opted to grab my lunch at the park as well.  While, I didn’t really want to eat park food, I had just returned from being away from home for almost a week so I just decided to roll with it. Regardless I was going to bring healthy, package free snacks and some extra food for teenie (so I could avoid feeding her park food) as well as our own drinking vessels for water, and even a cloth napkin! Everything fit nicely into a small lunchbox (along with an icepack to ensure food didn’t go bad) that we kept in the bottom of teenie’s stroller which we decided to bring this go-round.

When it came down to mealtime, it was sizzling out and I didn’t want to wander all over the park in search of something that didn’t exist (healthy food) so we just settled on a “burger” joint.  As a dietitian I’ve always operated under the umbrella of moderation, knowing that the occasional “bad-for-you” food wasn’t going to do me in.  But since watching numerous documentaries on food sustainability, including Food Inc, I have steadily become less and less open to this practice.  Mostly because the idea of eating something that was raised in deplorable conditions makes me sad and I don’t want to contribute to that sort of food system anymore.  That being said, while we were there I ended up getting a cheeseburger, even though I didn’t really want it. Not surprisingly at all, the patty was barely resemblant of meat so not only was it mass produced, it was majorly processed. I went ahead and ate it because I didn’t want to waste it and I was hungry, but decided that the next time we came I was going to bring my own meal. Park food aside, here’s how the rest of the meal went…

Teenie and I started on her food while hubs was getting ours so that I could start filling her up on good stuff.  Though a drink was included, I passed on this option.  I don’t drink soda and I had my own water bottle (as did teenie).  Hubs wanted to get the maximum benefit so he did get a drink but, of his own volition, chose to skip the unnecessary lid and straw which I really appreciated.  The restaurant had condiment dispensers which he squirted directly onto our food (and not into little cups).  Meals were served in cardboard bowls with a thin paper liner under the food.  Since the food paper kept the bowls clean, I took them with us at the end to be recycled at home.  We had the cloth napkin I had brought, which we shared.  I know that this sort of thing probably would not fall under the category of proper etiquette but hey, better than creating waste (and at the end of the day, one cloth napkin is always classier than three paper, amiright?!).  😉

Garbage tally: 1 cup and 2 paper liners.

During our second visit I brought enough food to keep both teenie and myself fed (hubs wanted to use his meal voucher again). This time we didn’t bring the stroller and instead I carried a large bag, since our plan was to go to the water park, which fit our lunch box easily.

On the menu: Home grown cucumber and made from scratch hummus, farmers market cherry tomatoes, blackberries and green bell peppers.  I also brought a reusable squeeze pouch filled with yogurt and pureed kale for teenie to make sure there was plenty to fill her up!  Oh and of course, a reusable cup with milk. Girls gotta have her milk. 🙂  We also had a separate travel cup for water!  There was a small cup of nuts as well, but I ate those as soon as we stepped into the park (oops, sorry teenie).

Just like before, hubs passed on the lid and straw for his drink and I took everyone’s cardboard bowls home with me to be recycled!

Garbage tally (for our family of 3): 1 cup and 1 paper liner.

Did I feel deprived or totally inconvenienced because I brought my own food? No. Quite the contrary. My day was better because I knew I had healthy food and water at the ready, that wouldn’t create any extra garbage (or leave me feeling guilty and regretful about where it came from). Yes, as family unit we weren’t completely waste free and that’s okay. The hubs is his own person and he wanted to gobble up some park food but together we were able to keep the resulting garbage to a minimum. Which leads me to…

Step 2: If you can’t avoid buying food or drinks:
– choose to the most recyclable option (i.e. plastic bottle over non-recyclable fountain drink cup)
– use only the disposable products you absolutely need (ie. skip the straw, use only one napkin)
– take recyclables home with you if receptacles are not available at the park

Step 3: Don’t fall for the games
You know you aren’t going to keep that stuffed gorilla the size of mini cooper in your house for long or snuggle up with the stuffed poop emoji that is about as soft as a brick. No need to waste your money or valuable environmental resources on that shiz.

Step 4: Same goes for trinkets at the gift shop or on those wheelie carts.
Its all plastic junk that just adds clutter to your home and will probably break before you even leave the parking lot (if it even makes it that far). Need a memento? Take a photo. Kid breaking you down, hounding you for this or that? Make it clear before you go that you aren’t going to be buying anything while you’re there. You’re not there to shop, you’re there to ride rides until you throw up!  Now I’m fully aware that I only have a toddler so I don’t have the parental street creed to dole out advice when it comes to older children (and haven’t yet had to encounter this situation as a parent myself) but speaking as a former kid, I am aware of the fact that you as a parent hold all the marbles. At least when it comes to that amusement park.  You’re paying to get in, you’re driving the kids there. You don’t like something, then you can decide to call it quits. Parent power. 😉

Step 5: Come prepared.
This is pretty much a continuation of step 1 (and important for avoiding the temptation from step 4). Sunscreen, towels; whatever you know you’re going to need to avoid any last minute stops at the gift shop. Going to be hotter than Magic Mike dancing on a stage to Pony that day? Bring your own mini fan or spray bottle and of course, some sort of container for water.  Are you someone who has to eat between meals (or do you have a herd of ravenous children with you)?  Pack a couple snacks in your bag.

Should you forget a water bottle, try to make due by utilizing the drinking fountains!

Step 6: Air dry your hands after washing if hand driers are not available!
Paper towels are pointless when a shake here and a pat there will achieve the same outcome.

Step 7: Pass on the park map.
Most amusement parks have apps nowadays that you can download onto your phone if you need something to help you get around. Or you could just live dangerously and wing it. 😉

There you have it; 7 easy ways to reduce your personal contribution towards the waste problem the next time you’re out visiting your favorite amusement park!

Hope you have a great rest of the week!!
xo, Erica