Disney Killed All the Mermaids

Photo by Von Wong

I think Disney murdered all the mermaids. We just returned from a three-day Disneyland vacation located in sunny California. It was crazy the amount plastic I saw there, such as balloons, souvenirs, and food packaging. I think it was enough to kill Ariel and all of her sea creature friends! It was also very difficult to refill our reusable water bottles. Water fountains were hard to find and the restaurants and refreshment stands refused to refill them. This made me appreciate Dutch Wonderland, a small theme park in Lansing, Pennsylvania, where it was always easy to refill your water bottle.

Theme parks are not my idea of how I want to spend my vacation, but my loving in-laws who are devoted grandparents wanted to take the kids there. My children have been focused on this vacation for months and were overjoyed by the idea of it. So I gave in. Reducing plastic is my new mission and my purpose, but how was I going to do this in Disneyland? Should I look up places to eat ahead of time and see if they matched my eco-values? Should I buy a used Disney toy ahead of time and tell my kids that this was their souvenir for the trip? Would that really stop my kids from wanting a new toy from Disneyland? A store in Disneyland is hard to avoid since many of the big rides end in a gift shop. How much energy can I put into having a zero-waste Disney vacation? Am I really zero-waste?

Avoiding consumerism feels like it should be an Olympic sport! How do we teach our children to conserve when our culture teaches them to mindlessly consume?

No, I am a green-thinker. I re-think or green-think situations to reduce my waste in a situation rather than skip the landfill all together. Yes, landfills are the worst legacies that we are leaving our children. However the amount of time and energy it takes to live completely zero-waste can be daunting, especially on vacation with kids. So I made the decision I was not going to completely avoid plastic this vacation, for my own sanity. I was just going to reduce where I could do so.

I knew my kids would want a toy from the over 30 stores and merchandise kiosks located in Disneyland. I set a rule with my kids that they could purchase one toy on the last day. My kids had a hard time following this – patience is not the strong suit of a 4 year old – so I told them to take a picture of everything they wanted and then they can choose from the pictures. IT WORKED! They just used my phone to take pictures. I honestly think they started liking the act of taking pictures more than actually owning a new toy.

Avoiding consumerism feels like it should be an Olympic sport! How do we teach our children to conserve when our culture teaches them to mindlessly consume? This problem goes beyond Disneyland. Chuck E. Cheese is my son’s favorite pizza joint, which has an arcade where kids win tickets to redeem for prizes. To avoid all those small, useless plastic toys I make my son pick one really big prize that requires lots of tickets so that he has to save tickets over several trips. My son now has a glass jar he uses to collect the tickets. He has so much fun counting and recounting his tickets that he has almost forgotten the real prize he wants.

We have a nation of compulsive shoppers thanks to the many psychological tricks of marketing. When I looked around at my fellow Disneyland visitors it seemed like 90% of the park had on a Disney shirt. At least 50% (mostly women) wore a headband with Mickey Mouse ears. Did I miss the memo on the requirement to wear Disney merchandise during one’s time there? Paying the entrance fee is expensive enough, wouldn’t people want to conserve their money?

Conserve is not the name of the game in capitalism. How does Disney convince 90% of visitors who already paid a lot for tickets to also buy a shirt, Mickey Mouse ears, and other toys? I think they get people with the idea of souvenirs. For some reason people feel that they need to buy a souvenir when they are on vacation. People think that without the souvenir they will forget it, as if stuff is placeholder of time.

The idea of souvenirs seems totally silly to me considering the hundreds of pictures we took thanks to the wonders of the smartphone. My mother, who grew up in India in 1950s, has one picture of her entire childhood. Photography was expensive and rare throughout her childhood in India. I believe if you had asked my grandparents back then if they could choose between a bunch mementos or being able to take endless pictures of their family, I think they would choose pictures.

For Ariel’s well-being this will probably be the last time we go to Disneyland.

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