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Earth Day 2023: The Mental Hurdle is the Hardest One

By Lauren Messner Kenney on Apr 25, 2023 12:00 AM

I was eight or nine the first time I ever thought about landfills. My family and I were at Lakeside Park for the local Father’s Day car show in my hometown. We were walking over one of the little bridges that crisscrossed the park, and it smelled like fresh cut grass and sunscreen and the Beach Boys were blaring out of portable speakers like owning a collector car meant you automatically had an affinity for Hawaiian shirts and 1960s Doo-Wop. As we walked, my dad told me a story. That Lakeside Park had originally been built on the soil dredged from the river channel. But the soil was too soft, too swampy. So, builders sunk old automobiles into the ground to give them a solid foundation on which to build. How when he was young, he daydreamed about finding a secret entrance to an underground cave filled with perfectly preserved antique automobiles. Not an island of trash. A magical thing. Indiana Jones and the Cavern of Cars.

I wish I could tell you if this story was true. I’ve read local park histories and found nothing about the sunken cars beneath it. More than that though, I wish I could tell you that once I learned about landfills, I was obsessed with the idea that there was so little a battle plan for the world’s steadily increasing production of trash. Of disposable goods. Of single-use products. Of hypothetically “recycle-able” plastics, less than 5% of which actually get repurposed according to a recent 2022 study done by Greenpeace (Laura Sullivan, NPR Recycling plastic is practically impossible – and the problem is getting worse). But I wasn’t.

I am a product of my surroundings, and we live in a world of convenience. And that’s the thing about convenience, isn’t it? Once we know how easy something can be, it’s really hard to commit to spending more time and potentially more money for seemingly the same results. Making challenging personal changes in the face of the overwhelming world-wide statistics that seem to be proving an insurmountable wave of impenetrable opposition feels a lot like screaming into a void. Mostly useless.

But, also potentially cathartic. And hey, there is always the chance that someone might actually hear you.

I’m clearly on a journey when it comes to changing my environmental impact, but here is what I’ve learned about making sustainable choices so far: The mental hurdle is the hardest one.    

Change the Media – Change the narrative – First things first, as a product of my surroundings I recognize that in today’s world, nothing surrounds thicker and faster than social media. Unsubscribing from emails, ads, Instagram posts, and Facebook pages (actually Facebook entirely) that seek to sell me a better version of myself through fast fashion, trendy home goods, or costly and sustainably-questionable “lifehacks” has been instrumental in cultivating not only a healthier personal outlook – but also a healthier budget and, hopefully, a healthier carbon footprint. (For some alternate, positive content, this is a shameless plug to follow MPL on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok ;)

Not Buying New – Patrick Grant of the Great British Sewing Bee famously said, “We now have enough clothes on this planet to dress six generations of the human race,” and while I don’t know where he pulled this statistic from, the sentiment is certainly true. As someone who has frequently sought to reinvent themselves and mask their insecurities by swapping trends and changing clothes, I know firsthand that fast fashion thrives for a reason – for several reasons. Including a lack of other affordable options, a lack of brand transparency and accountability, and a societal structure that doesn’t want us to be satisfied with what we have because then we might stop buying. For advice, straightforward information, and a dash of consolation, I can heartily recommend checking out the books How to Break Up with Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo and The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline.

Get Involved – One of my signature moves is to create a to-do list so all-encompassing that it paralyzes me from actually getting anything done. So, I understand how daunting the thought of adding another line item to that list can be. However, I am also a big believer in the idea that it always, always takes a village, and surrounding yourself with a community that cares by getting involved with local sustainability initiatives can be the difference between supporting a cause and living a cause in small ways every day. Consider checking out MPL’s Climate Change Webpage and Book Club or taking a tour of MPL’s Green Roof to learn more about the benefits of solar energy.

Change Small Habits – Every little bit helps, and making small changes to daily routines can have a bigger impact than we might think. It might be keeping reusable shopping and produce bags in the car for quick access or buying reusable storage bags or jars for transporting snacks. I am personally shocked to find how satisfying (and cheap) it is to mix my own mildew deterrent shower spray from vinegar and tea tree oil. And we can’t forget about the (necessary) shopping. For better or for worse, living in a “consumer” society means that where we spend our money has power. Figuring out how to put those dollars to good use though? It’s tricky because weeding through the onslaught of green, organic, and eco-friendly buzzwords when shopping is a daunting task. For guidance and a great read, consider checking out Sustainable Minimalism by Stephanie Marie Seferian or The Naturally Clean Home books by Karyn Siefel-Maier.   

We’re all on a journey (figuratively and literally) on this earth. And while it may sometimes feel like an indestructible place, I find more and more that it isn’t a theory I have the slightest interest in testing. So, even if the slow (and sometimes frustrating) process of changing habits does sometimes feel like screaming into a void – it doesn’t mean you are screaming alone. Besides, many voices together can be loud.

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