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Accidentally Eco: The Sustainability of ‘Stranger Things’ and the 1980s

The world of Stranger Things finds the gang fending for themselves and making eco-minded moves in the process.

Written by
Calin Van Paris

Welcome to Hawkins: Where the Upside Down is looming, the government is watching, and accidentally eco moments abound.

Whether you entered the world of Stranger Things purposefully or have absorbed the show’s details by osmosis—if anyone has avoided the Kate Bush revival, we would be shocked to hear it—the cultural impact of the Netflix series is undeniable. And while the show’s sci-fi themes are indeed a draw, it’s the fascination with and nostalgia for the era that combined to spark a full-on media trend. 

The 1980s and Environmentalism

The 1980s were a wild time defined by an air of rebellion, a want of excess, music heavy in synth, and a shift in tone around environmentalism.

One decade out from 1970’s inaugural Earth Day, conversations around pollution and toxic waste shifted toward environmental justice, the radicalized movement expanding to encompass race and inequity. Additionally, the Reagan Era put an end to previously bipartisan efforts, pausing legislative progress and further galvanizing the public in the process. The mid-1980s brought about a few environmental acts, but the decade made it clear that the fight for the planet would be largely down to the people.

Which brings us back to our friends in Hawkins. From incomparable DIY skills to green modes of transport to circular fashion, the world of Stranger Things finds the gang fending for themselves and making accidentally eco-minded moves in the process.

5 Accidentally Eco Aspects of Stranger Things

1. Riding Bikes and Carpooling

The gang is all about environmentally-minded transportation. From copious bike rides to their commitment to carpooling—Steve’s car and the Surfer Boy Pizza van are basically characters in season four—the crew does its best to keep emissions as low as possible.

The 1980s were pretty much a dead zone for the development and popularity of electric vehicles, so any efforts around sustainable transport were admirable—even if they were born from age, convenience, and safety in numbers.

2. Hand-Me-Downs

Keen eyes will notice that Eleven’s wardrobe is built of hand-me-downs from her friends. Watching for the clothing repeats is both inspiring and endearing—after all, sharing-is-caring is a solid sentiment both for friendship and the environment.

While thrift stores may be loaded with eighties finds now, the decade itself also favored thrifting for the fashion statements and affordability. It may be reaching a zenith, but the practice of passing clothes on rather than tossing them is nothing new. Just ask El.

3. Combatting Invasive Species

Sometimes, new environmental factors present themselves and must be dealt with, the better to preserve the native eco-system. Between the Demogorgon and the invasion of the Upside Down, Hawkins is constantly under threat of a full-tilt environmental catastrophe that threatens humans, animals, and habitats alike.

Fortunately, the cast sees the value in ridding their town of these invasive species and environmental threats—though the jury is still out on what all of the Upside Down’s falling ash/spores will do to our dimension's atmosphere.

4. DIY

From Joyce’s iconic Christmas lights to Steve’s nail-bedecked baseball bat to a memorable makeshift radio, our favorite Hawkins residents are masters of upcycling and repurposing the items around them.

This scrappy use of raw and unexpected materials is inspiring, and something that can be implemented in our modern lives—even if under less dire circumstances. Look around! You may already have everything you need.

5. Community

The plot of Stranger Things comes down to community. Aside from small-town pride, the members of the group have each other’s backs, and know how to come together to fight for their world.

History—particularly that of the 1980s—has proven that to protect our environment, we need to come together in a similar spirit. Because let's face it: Between extreme weather, rising sea levels and temperatures, and worldwide droughts, our planet is starting to feel a lot like the Upside Down.