Disney World Restaurants Figured Out How to Throw Out the Least Amount of Food Possible

Reducing food waste, helping the environment, and giving to those in need—Disney really is the most magical place on Earth!

America may be the land of plenty, but that has unfortunately led to plenty of waste, especially when it comes to food. In fact, this nation has a crisis on its hands, though not many people realize it. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, between 30 and 40 percent of the country’s entire food supply is wasted every year. This happens at all stages of the process—at farms, grocery stores, and people’s homes. In 2010, more than 130 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food went to waste at the consumer and retail levels. Not only could this food be put to better use and help people in need, but the unnecessary production of these wasted items also harms the environment.

After reading those numbers, this may seem like an insurmountable problem, but it’s not. Case in point: The Walt Disney World Resort has figured out multiple ways to combat food waste. Each year, more than 20 million guests walk through the Magic Kingdom’s gates, and that’s just one park! With so many people visiting Disney World’s four theme parks and dozens of resort hotels every year, most of whom are buying meals and snacks, the amount of food wasted is actually measured in tons. So how, exactly, is the vacation capital of the world combating food waste?

Chefs are using a new algorithm

Disney World has hundreds of places to grab a meal, drink, or ice cream bar across their 40-square-mile property. The chefs behind each of the restaurants, whether they are quick service, table service, or buffet style, have created a new way to have less food waste. It starts with the planning stages of a menu or recipe and goes all the way through processing food waste, and it’s all thanks to a new buffet optimization tool that lets the chefs know how much food to make based on volume and guest flow each day for each restaurant. This tool took researchers quite a while to perfect, and nothing has been left untested, even the amount of sauce left in a pan. While a firm number has not been released on exactly how much food is being saved with this new tool, Disney has said that it has reduced buffet waste by “tens of thousands of pounds each year.” Before you head to the buffet, be sure to know which new foods you have to try at Walt Disney World this year.

Disney is turning food scraps into energy

harvest power orlando disney sustainability food waste renewable energy Jevtic/Getty ImagesSome food scraps just cannot be saved, either to be used at another time or donated. This includes fat, peels, seeds, anything that fell on the floor, or leftovers from a meal. But that doesn’t mean that those items go to waste. In 2014, Walt Disney World was one of the first companies to begin using Harvest Power Orlando, an advanced food waste facility.

Here, more than 120,000 tons of organic waste get converted into bio-gases and natural fertilizers every year. The waste also can produce up to seven megawatts of heat and power annually. The whole process happens when naturally occurring microorganisms break down the food waste. The resulting energy is then passed over to the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Any of the waste that is converted into fertilizer is sold to help revitalize soil in the local area. Harvest Power is open every single day of the year, helping to make its small section of the world a greener place.

Some food gets donated to a local charity and feeds thousands of kids every year

In 1991, Disney launched the Disney Harvest program in partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. “More than 30 years ago, we designed a program with Second Harvest that collects excess and unserved food from locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort and delivers it to feeding programs that serve children in our community,” says Tajiana Ancora-Brown, Director of External Affairs at Walt Disney World Resort. “At the core of our business, we designed a sustainable way to prevent food waste and bring meaningful solutions to fight food insecurity. On any given week, Disney Harvest could be delivering fresh salads and greens or expertly cooked filet mignon to feed more than 1,000 local children per week.”

According to Disney, more than 823,000 pounds of prepared, unserved food is collected and distributed annually, and it is valued at more than $1.8 million! Second Harvest Food Bank serves more than 40 Orlando area non-profits. Last year, the organization was able to provide one million meals to people in need.

In addition to reducing food waste by donation, Disney makes monetary contributions to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, and the organization is the celebrated charity of the runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, which is held each November. With runDisney, any extra food from the post-race snack boxes is donated and distributed to Orlando communities in need. There’s even more that Walt Disney World is doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but that’s a story for another time. Here are another 22 businesses that are changing the world.

Megan duBois
Megan duBois is a regular contributor to RD.com's Travel and Culture sections, where she writes about theme parks, pop culture, and food. Her articles have also appeared on Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Insider, Orbitz, The Daily Meal and more. duBois has been quoted as an expert on theme parks for Forbes and other outlets. She earned her BA in Communications from The University of North Florida. Follow her on Instagram @MinglingwithMickey and Twitter @Megand315.