Toasted Earth

Locally Universal: Aneesh Mathur

September 15, 2021 Michelle Cunningham Season 1 Episode 16
Toasted Earth
Locally Universal: Aneesh Mathur
Show Notes Transcript

This is a special episode focused on the future generations that will inherit the earth. In it Michelle speaks with a member of Gen Z, Aneesh Mather the Founder of Locally Universal, about his views on the environment, how he's learning about it and how he hopes to make a difference.

Locally Universal is a group of students based in Northern Virginia that is dedicated to spreading awareness and taking action on environmental and animal rights issues. He and the Locally Universal members host events to clean up their community and recycle. 

Michelle and Aneesh discuss why he feels the need to get involved with helping our environment, what changes he'd like to see from adults to feel confident that these problems will be solved and how anyone can jump in and take small actions toward a better planet.

Instagram: @locallyuniversalorg

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Michelle Cunningham:

Hello and welcome to the Toasted Earth podcast, a show about founders, visionaries and environmentalists pursuing novel ideas and sustainability to, ultimately, save the earth. I'm your host, Michelle Cunningham and we have a special episode today. If you didn't already know from the times I've mentioned it on the show, I have been pregnant for the duration of Toasted Earth and we saved up this episode for a very special week, which is the week of baby's arrival. So if you're listening to it, then our baby girl is here! For today's episode, we wanted to commemorate the occasion by focusing on the future generations that will inherit the earth by speaking with a member of Gen Z about his view on the environment, how he's learning about it, and how he hopes to make a difference. So for this episode, we have Aneesh Mathur, whom I spoke with a while back, and he's a high school student and the founder of Locally Universal, a group dedicated to spreading awareness and taking action on environmental and animal rights issues. He and the Locally Universal members host events to clean up their community and recycle. Aneesh is truly passionate about helping the environment and I love his positive outlook and willingness to do whatever he can to help despite having been too young to even have meaningfully contributed to the problems that he's trying to solve. Aneesh wanted to do just something after realizing how many things could be better in the world, and is taking his first step toward that goal with Locally Universal.

Aneesh Mathur:

One day, I was just on my walk, and then I accidentally kicked a plastic bottle. And then when I went to pick it up, but then little did I know that there was just a bunch of trash right behind it. And then right behind that, on this really big field, there was just a lot of litter everywhere. And that's when I realized that my community was nowhere near as clean as I thought it was. And that's also when I realized that I needed to do something about it. So that's pretty much my inspiration for starting Locally Universal. And that subsequently inspired me to think of other ways I could do stuff and get fully immersed in the sustainability, and subsequently, also the animal rights movement. And that's where the recycling drive came up. And that's where all the other events and things that I've planned are stemming from.

Michelle Cunningham:

You just suddenly became aware. You were like, oh, there's actually a ton of trash just around where I'm living. Where are you?

Aneesh Mathur:

I'm in Northern Virginia and I honestly thought this was like a really clean area compared to like a lot of the rest of the country. And like, specifically, my area too, I'm like, 30 minutes from DC. But it turns out that even the parts that I thought were clean are super dirty and littered and everything. So I can just imagine how bad the downtown DC or like New York City is nobody cleaning it up. No, like, I actually took like a couple of weeks to plan my community cleanups and like the whole organization. And in that time, I actually saw like, quite often, some of the same trash sitting in the same spot for like, a couple weeks on end. I think one of the big reasons that that's the thing, especially where I found the trash, it's next to a shopping center is that there's no trash cans, it's like outside of the shopping center. So I'm really trying to I'm trying to that's, that's another thing that I'm planning is trying to get trash cans installed in these high litter areas, that this wouldn't be as big of a problem because even I while I'm on my walk, sometimes I don't even know what to do with my trash. If I have any, I just have to carry all the way through. So I think it would really decrease three if there were a lot more trash cans installed.

Michelle Cunningham:

See you realize that there's a ton of trash around and you decide you want to do something about it. How did you pick what you wanted to do? How did you decide to start Locally Universal?

Aneesh Mathur:

As I said, the inspiration stemmed directly from the trash I saw, but then actually like thinking of how I could do it, like should I start an organization? Or should I just get a couple friends involved. I initially just wanted to go in and do it myself. And I was completely convinced that I am myself could just take up all this trash. But there's a couple of problems with that. And my parents, they they really opened my eyes to this really I can't be the only one doing it is that like even now after the whole group cleans up an area The next day, unfortunately and really disappointingly. I see so much trash where we just cleaned up and it was like completely clean after we left but then the next day, it's like no, it's like it's you wouldn't think that anybody cleaned it up. So that's one thing and then another is I because school was also going on so I didn't even have time myself to sit for like hours on end. just picking Every single thing I saw. So that's why I decided to start an organization. And I specifically decided to start an organization, not just like an event itself, because I kind of thought into the future a little bit. And I was like, Why just stop here, when I could use this group that I'm collecting to try and push for other changes, such as like a trashcan, maybe, like, I might need, like a petition or something, right, I might need to spread awareness. So and so I also decided that this organization isn't just a pre college thing, I'm actually going to be taking this organization all the way up. So hopefully, until I like die, so Oh, my life, I'm planning on putting everything into this organization, especially when I'm out of college. That's why I decided on an organization so it's super open ended. And actually funny stories that the hardest part of it was coming up with the name, and even the name van, it's kind of it's still Alright, but um, the hardest part because I just I didn't know what to do, I actually used up the name I was originally gonna go with, which was the outlook in a school club, because I thought I could just combine the school club with like this other club. But my school doesn't allow you to do that. So I couldn't really nice name just like down in to my high school.

Michelle Cunningham:

Is it because like, you can't have a school, like a school kind of sponsored or official thing also associated with an outside thing.

Aneesh Mathur:

Yeah, a club at my school cannot be linked to or affiliated with an external organization. And especially because of COVID right now, like, I could only do virtual stuff with my club, so I couldn't post community cleanup. So that's why my club is actually not really as focused on the environmental aspect as much as the animal aspect, like shelters and stuff.

Michelle Cunningham:

So you decide you're going to start this organization, you realize this has to be bigger than yourself, you can't go pick up all the trash in the world. It sounds like maybe you started with the trash pickup events was that the first step there?

Aneesh Mathur:

Before I became super involved, I don't I don't know the best way to explain my thought process. But it's like, I honestly don't remember exactly where I started. But it was just one night, after I saw the trash, I think, where I just started thinking of all these like things that are wrong in the world. And it actually didn't even start with sustainability. It started with the racism. And then I started thinking about gender inequality. And then I started thinking about sustainability. So that kind of all stemmed together. And I was like, there's just this one big problem, which is that humans just keep trying to do stuff, for convenience wise, is what I came to the conclusion. And so in the end, I realized that sustainability is super left behind in like, the whole, all your all the activism. And now I'm not trying to compare anything, but it's just that, like, that's what I ended on. And I was like, I should probably join that alongside of all these other things. And so, yeah, I did start my organization with the community cleanup events. And then I have started to organize and plan for my next event, lemming, while keeping the community cleanups going, which is, um, the recycling drive for paper bags. It's actually funny story with that is that I was just trying to do my homework, but I left my like pages of stairs. And there were just a couple paper bags sitting by me and my dad just jokingly said that, why don't you try and do your homework on that. And then I actually tried writing on the bags. And it turned out that the bags were really nice to write on. And I even tried printing on the bags. And I realized that I wasted so much money and resources on printer paper and notebooks on all this time, we could just reuse these paper bags were getting for free from whole foods or any store really, and repurpose them into a lot cheaper and more sustainable things that we could just keep on using. And so I also thought that like there's a lot of kids that don't have resources to study or to, again, like have a proper education. So I connected the two and my recycling drive is going to be taking paper bags, and turning them into notebooks that I could give and donate to kids that need resources to study on.

Michelle Cunningham:

That's an awesome idea. Is the drive part of it is like people are donating their paper bags to you?

Aneesh Mathur:

Yeah, and and I'm also of course, like, as I realized I can't be the only one doing everything I'm also going to be getting this is why this is part of the reason I also created an organization. So I'm also going to be getting people that are members of the organization to help me recycle. So it's not just going to be me But yeah, people, there's a lot of ways that people could help. It's by either donating paper bags or helping me get connected to organizations that donate to kids or collect resources for that or keep like straight up just come and help me actually repurpose bags.

Michelle Cunningham:

Oh yeah, so that was my next question. Are you the one actually turning them into notebooks? Or like, are you sending them somewhere to make them?

Aneesh Mathur:

Yeah, so it will be as of now I haven't, well, I either haven't done much research on it, or I just haven't come across this yet. But I don't really know of a place that particularly recycles paper bags. And the notebooks are really all I've come across is just companies like, either like 30% recycled paper or something like that, that make no books. And like, I feel like that's kind of just, it's, it's not really as useful because it's like, you're still creating waste, are you taking resources from the environment? So it's not, it's kind of like having a, like a car with both a diesel engine and an electric engine, like, it kind of defeats the purpose of it. So I so for the recycling part, it's mostly just going to be me, and of course, the other volunteers that are going to come and help me.

Michelle Cunningham:

Who are the the volunteers in your group? I guess my main question is, are they students? Is that like, mostly who is joining you since you are also a high school student? Or is it expanding beyond that?

Aneesh Mathur:

Yeah, so far, I feel like, it's, it's interesting, but at the same time, I can kind of understand it right now, the only people that have joined me, our students, even though I really, like it's open to anybody from like, a really old senior to, like, I guess not like a toddler for like kids that can pick up trash or recycle the stuff. But right now, it's just students, because I guess the impression that people have is one there's not like, despite the movement is still growing. So it's not like this, like, like everybody's jumping on it. It's not like adults aren't joining in because they're not like, I have to do this. But instead, it's more like a kid trying to get other kids to join. So right now, the the group of people is just students at my school, and then a couple schools near here, but no, no, nobody that's not like a high school or middle school. No adults.

Michelle Cunningham:

Are the people who are joining, are they really excited about helping the environment? Is that why they're joining?

Aneesh Mathur:

That's also kind of split. So even with the students itself, like there's this big passion for it. While there are a good amount of kids and a good amount of people that have joined because they really care about it. And I love those people, because they they really got my back when I'm not able to come to the meetings, they can just lead it. But then like about maybe even over 50% of them would come mostly for like the service hours, I still feel like there's this big need for people to understand what's going on.

Michelle Cunningham:

I get that because when I was in high school, like everyone did volunteer stuff, but a big part of that was college apps and being able to write down that like, oh, yeah, I volunteered at this thing. Got this experience. So I'm really not surprised that a lot of students are joining for that reason. But now that they're there, they are hopefully learning a little bit, or at least becoming aware of like what's going on in their community?

Aneesh Mathur:

Yeah, I mean, most of the people that I've talked to, after they join, they realize like before, even I before I truly went in depth and looked at it, I didn't even realize that there was so much trash, I didn't even think about it. So after that I'm sure they all at least now understand that there's at least a problem, regardless of whether they're going to try and put an active like foot in changing it, or won't they? I think they everybody that's joined till now has a better understanding of the problem at hand. And this is just like a microscopic viewpoint of the big problem.

Michelle Cunningham:

Is the environment and like maybe climate change in particular, is that something that gets talked about at school?

Aneesh Mathur:

Yeah, that's actually one thing I find particularly frustrating is that, um, this is definitely the case at my school. And I'm like, 100% Sure, it's the case that many schools worldwide is that like, education? Does it has it Incorporated, like other than initial biology class or your biology classes? sustainability and pollution is not one thing that's talked about, and I feel like public schools, especially since they're connected to the government, and there are they take, like this really big portion of, like kids that are learning in in the US at least, and I'm sure in other countries too. Like, I feel like they should be the first step in this movement. Because I believe now I'm no adult yet. So I can't say, but I believe that our values and our like, the way we see the world and perceive it, it's a lot easier to change. And it's developed when we're younger versus when we're older. Like when you're older, you already have like, I think, once again, I don't know, I think when you're older, it's a lot harder to change somebody versus when they're younger, when they're surrounded by friends. And like if some friend starts doing something a lot of friends might join on. Whereas if you're an adult, you're more so you're more independent, I think so I think it's really I can't it's kind of frustrating that like in school it's not talked about at all in my school like there other than biology class like one tiny project, which I took part in, but back then I didn't even like I was just like, Okay, this is another homework assignment, get this over with, like, I honestly feel like schools are doing a lot less than they should be, because they should definitely be taking the first step and teaching us because I only know what I know, through research and like personal research, taking time away from doing other things going, delving into it. And unless I was super motivated, there's no way I would have actually learned stuff or discovered a bunch of people that are making an impact unless it's like a trend or something.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, I didn't know if they were teaching it now. Because when I was in school, and we're talking like, what, I graduated from high school, I don't know, well, 15 years ago or so. So then we're going back, like even farther from that to get like all my school age from like middle school through high school. We didn't talk about it really, at all. I don't remember talking about climate change. I think it wasn't really a thing that was on the news as much maybe like mentioned sometimes. Yeah, yeah, it was really not a thing. But I thought maybe that had changed because, like, it's talked about much more now. And we're feeling the effects much more now. And our population is growing has gotten much bigger. I think there's 2 billion more people than when I was at some point in school, I remember the number 6 billion and now we're like around eight. Yeah, so that's, that's really interesting. But what are you researching? Like, what, what do you start thinking about and then you're like, oh I need to go research that?

Aneesh Mathur:

I have to research to find things to research about. So initially, I just researched like the basic wire plastic straws bad because that was a big trend. That's what everybody was like plastic straws are bad for plastic straws are actually like, they're not even the biggest, they're not even close to the biggest contributor to pull, like ocean pollution or anything. So like, I honestly half the time don't even know what to research, I just start searching up like, What's so bad about plastic straws. And I see like a link to like another page. And it's like, our electric cars truly that sustainable. And then I start reading up on that. And then it just, I just kind of go into a chain. One thing leads to the next thing. And then now I'm at a point where I have like a better understanding. Like I didn't even know what hemp was before I researched it. And I just found out that it was illegal. But yeah, and like I didn't know cotton was actually not as good as like you think it is because it's natural. But it's it takes up a lot of resources. And so it's not like I don't have the time, I don't even know what to search up. I just I like if I if it was if I didn't have this mindset that I really need to do something I really need to, like become a part of the movement, I'm super motivated about it, I would probably it would be a lot harder for me to understand the true problem, which is like, furthermore, why I think schools should be taking a big part in spreading awareness.

Michelle Cunningham:

Why do you feel like you need to do something, you definitely could say, I'm in high school, this is an adult problem and I'm going to let them try to fix it. But it seems like you don't feel that way. So what makes you feel like you have to get involved?

Aneesh Mathur:

It really comes down to like, the trash that I saw in the same place over many weeks is that I realized that like, if I don't do it, then I don't see anybody else doing it, which I'm sure is not true. Like, I'm sure there's plenty of people out there now. Especially that would be doing stuff like that. But like I personally feel like, unless I join it, like I don't know who else is gonna do that, like who's gonna pick up that trash? Who's gonna start this community cleanup? Unless I do it? Because I don't, I don't really know many adults really even let alone children that really care about this stuff.

Michelle Cunningham:

What would you like to see from adults, leaders, the government to make you feel like, oh, I don't need it. Like, I don't need to be involved because this is being handled.

Aneesh Mathur:

Honestly, the biggest thing that I see could happening is a change in education and education, including sustainability, like public schools pushing into that, because adults oftentimes, I mean, I'm sure this isn't every adult, but I've had experience with a lot of stubborn adults who like have this set value and like now they're teaching their children these values. So it's like this whole cycle and unless there's intervention before they beat before like kids, like they have like these values that are set in stone, which I'm sure not, not everybody's like severed, but like word of mouth get started spreading unless there's like official education that spread when like a younger age when kids are more receptive. And when you're more open to learning stuff. I feel like until unless that happens I'm not really going to feel like there's a true change or unless government start putting in like surpassing legislation like there's, there's there's a good amount of stuff that's been going on in Europe lately. Compared to like the US, the US here, like, I feel like the US is just not doing nearly as much as it should be. I forgot what country it was. But there's one country where like, they charge you, like 20 cents more. And this is like a pretty small change, but it's pretty good, they charge you 20 more cents, if you buys something that's, oh, it's a one time use, and then you get the 20 cents back if you put it in this bin. And that's like, that's like, that doesn't seem like it should be that hard to implement. Especially like, if it doesn't even have to be governments, it could be private organizations like Starbucks, per se, or McDonald's, they could just implement these tiny things. But until I see like changes like that at like a bigger macro scale, like schools, putting in the place, like they don't even have to have like an extra class, they could just start putting posters around the school, like stop doing this, or it started supporting that. I thought I see that I'm not gonna really think that there's so much going on. Other than like the news headlines that come every now and then.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah. Well, the news, a lot of it is like, when bad things happen. So yeah, it's not always all that inspiring. It's like, oh, great, California is on fire. Well, I think we have a long way to go. But people are, are waking up to these are big problems and hopefully over the next decade, there will be a lot of people working on it. Just from doing the podcast and meeting a lot of entrepreneurs, people starting things like yourself, and it's inspiring to see that people are going out there and thinking about how can I make this better? Like what can I do? I'm imagining that you could be really inspiring for other people, like yourself, students or whoever, who could also want to organize these types of events. Do you have any advice for someone who might be looking to clean up their community or do anything I guess, to help their community's environment?

Aneesh Mathur:

The one piece of advice I could give is that, like, never go into something thinking that what impact would I make if I was the only one doing it? Because I feel like that mindset, it goes, it's not just sustainability, that mindset could go for anything like, like the racial movement, or like the gender equality movement, like if you think like, it just starts this chain, like everybody starts thinking, if I'm the only one doing this, then it's not gonna make an impact. So that's one thing, like, even if you are the only if you start if you send everybody posters are similar flyer, flyer, like you're organizing this cleanup, and then nobody shows up, I I'd say don't get upset, just keep on going, which I'm sure it'll be pretty upsetting if you're the only one there. But don't go with the mindset that you're like doing something won't have a change. Because who knows that maybe like a squirrel could have thought that bottle was like, like, I've read it a little into this, like plastics, like a breeding ground for bacteria, which makes it more susceptible to being thought of as food from like animals and wildlife. So like, even if you pick up one piece of like one plastic bottle, you could be saving a light or like that, like who knows where that bottle could have gone? So my advice is that even if you're the only one doing it, which I mean, in many cases, it honestly could, it could very easily feel like you're the only one made, like, try actively trying to do something, don't get lose hope. Because before I went out and started doing research, and I finally came across people other than just great at thunberg, who were making a change, I was really sad for like a really long time. Because anyway, I was I was I was just not in a good place for a really long time. Because I and the reason was that I thought nobody was doing anything until I went out. And I realized that there are actually people doing stuff, it's just a lot more spread out. It's not as like common. So, um, the only the advice that I can give is that don't think that you're the only one doing something or don't think that if you're the only one doing something, it's a small impact, because it could go a long way because somebody could see you picking up trash, and then they can start thinking about it. And they could notice it because what happens is many times people don't even realize there's a problem. Like until I picked up that bottle, I didn't even realize that there's so much trash here.

Michelle Cunningham:

Absolutely, and the problems that are leading to climate change are in so many different areas. Like there's a lot of things we have to fix for us to make the changes we need to to stop the temperature of the earth from rising right? That you almost need like a lot of people doing a lot of different stuff. So you're not going to just see like one person fixing the whole thing. But Greta is a good example. Like one person really can inspire a lot of people and I got to look this up really quick because I was literally just looking at the Instagram of the guest who's airing this week, which is Goodbag, and they had a great quote that leads directly to what you were saying. Okay, so this is a quote from Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So yeah, even if you are one person, and nobody shows up, maybe next time two people show up, and then three, you just can't give up. If you care deeply about something like, keep trying, because there's probably so many people out there who could have made something big and just like ended up giving up on it. Anyway. So hopefully, that is inspiring to someone out there listening to the show, but I would love to hear a little bit about what you hope to turn Locally Universal is into. What is next? What is the vision for it?

Aneesh Mathur:

What I hope to turn Locally Universal into is really, I'm thinking way too much into the future. But I hope that it's like, is it necessarily like a clone of the World Wildlife Fund, but I hope that it becomes so vague, it involves like, I basically just hope that it becomes a really big organization that's in an innovative way tries to fight climate change, and like ways that you wouldn't think we're affecting the earth, because there are a lot of ways where you wouldn't expect it to be bad for the earth. But then it turns out once you think about it, like I never thought that far well, before I got into the movement, I never thought that fireworks were really like bad for the environment, I thought they just cleaned it all up, nothing wrong. But then if you think about it, the debris probably goes like all over the place where they started the fireworks, and then it releases smoke into the air. And it's things that you that bring you joy might not necessarily be good for the planet or the wildlife around it. So I hope to turn locally universal into like an innovative approach to the climate problem, climate crisis that we have at hand, and definitely a lot bigger than it is right now. And I hope it inspires a lot of other people to either like start their own thing or get like even more people involved and start this word of mouth thing that gets everybody involved, hopefully,

Michelle Cunningham:

What are the steps to getting there? How do you make it big?

Aneesh Mathur:

I mean, I've thought about it a little bit, I haven't thought too much into it. Because when I started thinking about it, it's just too much for me to think about right now. Because it's like a really small organization right now. So I can't even like imagine it ever being that big. But I guess how it would become big is like, how we get into that place is um, first of all, like, I'd probably have to either get like myself get like an engineering degree or get somebody who's like, who has like an actual ideas on how to, like, innovate, and like use today's like technology in a really innovative way. So the first step would be graduating from college, and then using my network to garner people from all different types of fields and industries. Because I think that every industry and every type of any type of work you do has a way to offer something to the climate movement. So like finding people to join my joint locally universal from anywhere, and any time any all diversity, super, super diverse population. That would be like the next step. And then after that, it would just be to host the hosting event and in different locations, getting people to support it. That's, that's all I can think of as of now, I haven't put much thought into it.

Michelle Cunningham:

As you go from like where you're at now towards you going to college is this, something you'll bring to your college and try and like, get students there to get involved with it.

Aneesh Mathur:

I'm definitely going to be involved in the sustainability movement and animal rights movement when I go to college. And it depends on whether there's already a big organization at my college, that if there is an organization there that I'm just I would just join that, instead of reinventing the wheel, I would just join that. But if there isn't like an organization that's super organized, that has a lot of people involved, then I would definitely bring locally universal. But if there is an organization, I would either let somebody else take over for a couple years, it will I don't know how that would go because it's just too much high school students right now. Or I would put it on pause until after college where I would start devoting a lot more time into it.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, that could be one way to do it is to like spend that time learning how other organizations run and like all the background you need and then like take off from there. Or you can, yeah, always continue to build it. Well, while you're at school. When I was in college, I met some of the greatest, smartest people who coming out of college have not only been friends but have been like, very helpful in business and careers and everything. I feel like you can definitely meet a lot of awesome people who could, who could fill some of those roles for you, like thinking up the solutions to all of these cool problems that need to be solved. So, in any case, there's probably some cool opportunities coming for you and how you could grow this. Is there anything that our listeners can do to help?

Aneesh Mathur:

Locally Universal, it's not like a for profit organization, we're all in the same movement. So everybody could actually do something themselves in their own community in their own way. So what I'd say is, for one day, just really observe your whole day, like if you go on a walk, take a really deep breath at everything that's going on around you and look at every tiny detail for like one day or one week, however, is better for you, I guess, and look at every tiny thing and see how you could improve that. And then make like a list of what you can do. And then either gather a couple people you could work with, or you're doing it yourself and like if it's as simple as turning off the lights every day, then start turning off the lights like every tiny thing. Once again, like no matter how small it is, it will make an impact at some level.

Michelle Cunningham:

Well, before we sign off, we like to end every episode with a toast to the earth. What do you hope for our planet's future?

Aneesh Mathur:

Honestly, I just hope that collectively, regardless of our political standpoints, whether we're divided or not, we can come together and unify for this one universal fight against global warming and punch through the wall that lies ahead of us, because unless we collectively come together and work against the problem, there will be this wall that humanity might not be able to cross and I hope that we can at least unify before that and do something about it.

Michelle Cunningham:

Thanks for listening to the show today. If you love the show, please leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts. You can learn more about Locally Universal by following @locallyuniversalorg n Instagram or visiting our how notes at toastedearth.com fo more links in details about t is episode. If you're current y working on an idea, company nonprofit or movement to bene it the environment, send us an e ail at hello@toastedearth.com. e would love to hear from you. Raise a glass to the earth ever one. It's the only one we've go .