As of last week, Disneyland's locomotives won't be belching out clouds of noxious black exhaust. The park's signature railroad, which loops around the campus, now smells an awful lot like lunch.
In a brilliant move that is both environmentally savvy and penny-pinching, Disneyland has learned how to convert its cooking oil into a biofuel. Now, instead of throwing away their used deep-frying oils, the restaurants at Disney's two California parks and its hotels will send it for treatment so it can power the steam engines.
The five Disneyland locomotives use about 200,000 gallons of fuel a year, and the park expects the ravenous eating habits of its guests, who order fries with nearly every meal, to generate about the half the fuel necessary for the year. With time, the park's rep says, it expects the switch to pay off because the cost of biofuel is much less volatile than the price of diesel. The resort was previously dumping its old oil. Now it can be used twice.
In terms of Disney lore, the economical switch is deeply meaningful. Trains provided the germ of the idea for Disneyland. Walt Disney had a whole railroad built in his back yard, and when he was first toying with the concept of Disneyland, a central goal was to share his love for trains.
Had french-fry fuel been available to Walt Disney in the 1950s, he almost certainly would have loved it. He had a socialist streak. You can't look at his original plans for EPCOT, which touted efficiency and progressive technology for the greater good, without recognizing that. And the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, five years after his death and under the supervision of his brother, adopted many novel energy-saving features, like using the power generators to heat water, reclaiming waste water for watering plants, and composting food scraps. (Walt Disney World in Florida has thus far not announced a fry-fuel switch.) In addition to all that brighter-tomorrow stuff that Disney loved to talk about, fry fuel saves money, and ol' Walt was a smart businessman.
Speaking of french fries, one thing Walt Disney didn't want in his park was McDonald's. In the mid-'50s, McDonald's founder Ray Kroc petitioned Walt for a sub-lease to sell food in Disneyland. Walt turned him down flat. That turned out to be a smart move (but after he died, the company allowed the Golden Arches in, anyway). Now Disneyland owns all the grease, and as long as visitors keep stuffing their mouths with french fries and chicken tenders, it won't have to pony up so much to fuel its iron horses.
I love seeing this. America's deep-fried cuisine has been expanding our waistlines, shortening our lives, and inflating our medical bills for years. If we insist on having such fry-heavy palates, it's gratifying to see the waste being used wisely and efficiently.
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