The Low Waste Gal

Angelina decided to re-start her low-waste journey in the beginning of 2021. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it really back tracked all the progress she made up until that point. Angelina fell off of her low-waste lifestyle for a bit, but in 2021 decided to resume her plans. This time though, she decided to make her journey public by starting an Instagram page, @thelowwastegal, dedicated to her personal experiences and goal to transition to a minimal waste lifestyle. On her Instagram page, Angelina shares alternative tips, tricks, and objects that can help one start their low-waste journey. She believes it is important to be as transparent with her followers as possible because even she has difficulty with her waste management at times.

“Even for waste that I could not prevent I would still feel guilty, (for) example, not being able to use my own produce/grocery bags, refilling items in the bulk section of grocery stores, being able to use my own containers at the deli section, and not being able to refill my items at refill station due to being closed,” Angelina said, recalling how the pandemic backtracked her progress. “I am thankful now that some of these habits have been reintroduced into my routine, although it may not be 100% back to normal, I think it’s better than nothing at all.”

Angelina stresses to her followers and those around her that living a low-waste lifestyle is never linear. You will have your ups and downs, times where you fall off, feel defeated, and will want to give up. All that matters is that you are conscious about your waste management, and want to make small – but significant – steps to improve your lifestyle. The lesson she wants people to take away is that changes from individuals turn into big changes collectively.

What really opened Angelina’s eyes to waste management was an undergraduate course she took at San Francisco State University. She had no idea that the class, “Geography of Garbage,” would change her perspective entirely. At the time, the class sounded fun and interesting, but she mostly just signed up for the credits she needed to graduate. Little did Angelina know that this class would become the foundation and the spark that started it all.

In “Geography of Garbage,” Angelina learned about a low-waste lifestyle, and waste in general. The class’ main objective was to shine a light on waste management and the affect garbage has on the planet. The class visited a landfill, a wastewater treatment plant, and participated in a beach cleanup. She has always pictured landfills to be disorganized with trash laying around every direction you looked. Angelina was surprised to see that the landfill was surprisingly clean and tidy – man-made formed hills and dirt, with trash only in its designated area. Angelina learned that the reason why there wasn’t a plethora of random garbage around was because of the landfill’s process of discarding materials.

“The way most landfill works is that they dig into the land, apply layers of different material, and then cover the layer of garbage with dirt, this is why you will not see trash just laying around,” She explained. “After landfills are completely filled with our trash, these lands are then most likely covered with grass.”

Once the landfill is covered with soil and grass, the land itself cannot be built on. This is because the breakdown of garbage creates Methane. These gases need to be released to avoid explosions and fires. Pipes are built on the landfill so these gases don’t build up underground. This is also the reason why the landfill is usually kept as an open space – incase the ground were to collapse or an explosion were to take place. According to science.howstuffworks.com:

Bacteria in the landfill break down the trash in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic) because the landfill is airtight. A byproduct of this anaerobic breakdown is landfill gas, which contains approximately 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide with small amounts of nitrogen and oxygen. This presents a hazard because the methane can explode and/or burn. So, the landfill gas must be removed. To do this, a series of pipes are embedded within the landfill to collect the gas. In some landfills, this gas is vented or burned. More recently, it has been recognized that this landfill gas represents a usable energy source. The methane can be extracted from the gas and used as fuel.

Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.

Visiting these places, partaking in clean ups, along with the knowledge she gained from the class, really opened her eyes to how she plays a part in all this collective waste. She started to evaluate the daily waste in her current routine: how she uses water, energy usage, and the products she bought and ate that all came in plastic. Angelina started becoming very conscious of her impact on the planet. She started off small by purchasing low-waste products like reusable cotton rounds and a safety razor, but it wasn’t close to the level she wanted to be at. At the time, Angelina was living with roommates, and found it difficult to maintain a low-waste lifestyle without having her own space. Still, she couldn’t help but be hyper-aware of all the things she could change in her routine in the future.

Even though Angelina couldn’t fully dive into her journey due to lack of space and roommates, she still educated herself on the topic. Even after her “Geography of Garbage” class ended, she would read up on things online to further her knowledge on waste management. Instagram really helped her find alternate items that she could swap in for items that were not eco-friendly. These pages educated her on eco tips, information, and different ways that humans create waste – some we don’t even think twice about or think is detrimental to the environment. Her recent shocking discovery is when she fell into the rabbit hole of the transportation industry – in relation to the supply chain of goods. She had no idea how much the e-commerce industry (buying and selling products or services online) affects the environment. This opened up Pandora’s box of topics: greenhouse gases, unethical / unsustainable products, cheap labor, pollution, etc.

“After learning about a low-waste lifestyle, I started to feel very conscious of my impact on the planet,” Angelina explains after she took the undergraduate class. “It was something I could not unlearn, and I was constantly aware of the waste I was making.”

Angelina’s low-waste journey fully started when she moved to Long Beach in 2019 for graduate school. She was so excited that she and her boyfriend, Dominic, would finally have their own space. This meant that she could finally have the chance to fully start her low-waste journey without any space restrictions. In the beginning, diving into the low-waste lifestyle was slow progress. At times she felt defeated and that the transition seemed nearly impossible. She knows now that a sustainable lifestyle takes time and changing one’s way of living just doesn’t transform over night. This is a lifelong investment, and Angelina admits that to this day, she is still transitioning. Advocating for the planet and environment is something really important to Angelina, and she encourages others to be aware of their impact on the world as well. She believes this is a topic everyone should care about.

“I think it’s important to take care of the Earth and be conscious of our habits effecting our communities,” She explained. “Some anthropogenic habits that negatively change our planet’s climate are, monocrop farming, industrial farming of animals, greenhouse gases, water pollution, deforestation, material waste, etc. Aside from collective human impacts, there are impacts at an individual level as well. Participating in a low-waste lifestyle can help reduce impacts at an individual level. In that, we are all consumers, we all have needs to survive (ex. food, hygiene products, clothes, etc.), but with all these needs comes waste. We can still attain these needs by being conscious, for example intaking fewer or zero plastic products, supporting local, supporting ethical and sustainable companies, reusing and repurposing, buying second hand, eating less animal products, buying vegetables at farmers markets to support local farmers, etc. I think others should feel compelled to be more conscious because we should all feel that we need to do our part as an individual to take care of our home. It will not be perfect, but I think at least trying is better than not.”

Angelina humbly admits that before her journey, she, like many others, did not think twice about a product’s afterlife. She didn’t give too much thought into what happened to the product once it was used or when she was done with it. Out of sight, out of mind. She educated herself and found that products are only supposed to be used X amount of times and disposed of, and are not meant to be kept “forever.” This forces people to keep re-buying items that are only good for a couple of uses – like paper towels, pads, and plastic bottles and containers to name a few. This forces consumers to buy one-time use products because it is easily accessible and more convenient. Because of this supply chain, Angelina found it difficult at first to break the cycle and switch to ethical and sustainable products.

Her most challenging hurdle was finding non-toxic cleaning products. She would try different DIY concoctions, but some didn’t work for her. There were times she would have to go back to the cleaning products she was used to and would have mixed emotions about flip flopping back. But she knows that with trial and error she will eventually find a cleaning product recipe that will fit her needs and wants. Though that has been a hurdle in itself since COVID. But Angelina has found ways to effectively clean her space with products that she approves of. She makes her own foam soap by mixing together castile soap, water, fractioned coconut oil, and essential oils. She uses castile soap and water mixture to wipe down all of her areas. She uses alcohol on a reusable cotton pad to wipe down her phone. These are minor changes to her cleaning routine, but finding the right products and the research behind can either be a hit or miss.

As much as possible, Angelina and Dominic try to buy their fruits, vegetables, and the occasional sauces, juices, and bread from local farmer’s markets. They make the conscious effort to buy from local farmers so they can help support their businesses, even though these are items that the couple can get from a local grocery store. Currently, Angelina is working from home so throughout the week she isn’t going out much. But when it’s the weekend, she does use her car to get from point A to point B. She would prefer to use a bike, but given that her bike is more of a cruiser bike instead of a commuter bike, and that she’s not the best biker, she decided to trade in her car for a more sustainable option. She is not able to get an electrical vehicle just yet, but taking the step to get a more sustainable car option is lessening her impact. Though their grocery shopping and form of transportation seem like little actions, collectively, these all make a difference.

Recently, Angelina created a map display of refill stations / zero waste stores in California that could be found by clicking the link on @thelowwastegal ‘s Instagram bio. She thought of making this map to help others who are interested in finding a refill station near them. Surprisingly, it was easy for Angelina to find these types of stores with simple research. She has found that refill stations and zero waste stores seem to be more easily accessible in urban areas. With COVID restrictions easing, Angelina is happy to get back into the routine of visiting her favorite refill stations. She feels at ease knowing that she is repurposing old containers and avoiding purchases that contain plastic.

Reducing, reusing, and recycling items doesn’t just apply to household items. It has also translated in Angelina’s closet. When she first started her low-waste journey, she refused to buy any new clothes. She tried her best to buy secondhand or hand-me-downs. When she couldn’t find anything at a thrift shop, she just wouldn’t shop for clothes at all. Of course, she would have to come up with a solution that didn’t leave her feeling guilty. For her, and many others that thrift, it can be really difficult to solely rely on thrifting especially when you’re looking for a very specific item. Sometimes it’s a hit or miss, and you never know what the selection will be. When Angelina would look for specific clothing items and they weren’t available at secondhand stores, she would cave in and buy them new. She would feel so conflicted with buying new clothing that she would reduce the number of new items she purchased – one item here, one item there. Now that she has been in the low-waste journey for some time, she has now found her middle ground – if she can’t find a specific item second hand and has to buy it new, she will try to purchase the new items from local and small businesses.

Angelina has made changes all the way from her cleaning products, to where she buys her food, how she uses transportation, switching up her household items, changing the way she shops for clothing, all the way down to her feminine products. Yes, you read that right. And Angelina is not ashamed to speak on it – she wants to share as much information as she can so she can help others who are thinking about low-waste period products. Back in the day, she would describe herself as a “pad girl,” when on her period. So you can totally understand why she had some apprehension about the period cup since it is larger than a tampon. Surprisingly, Angelina didn’t mind the period cup. It’s definitely something she had to get used to, but after a while, she became a pro at using it, and she loves that it is a reusable item. She has also tried the reusable pad and has recently purchased period underwear which she hopes to review soon. She confesses that even she second guessed the reusable pad, with fears that the product wouldn’t be sanitary.

“Before trying out the reusable pad, I thought I wouldn’t like it and that it would be too unsanitary, but it’s the same as using a disposable pad, except you just wash after each use,” She explained. “When you need to change your pad, unclip the pad, spray stain remover, allow stain remover to sit in and then rinse, then wash with laundry. Although if you’re out, some will come with a baggie, which allows you to deal with it later. I just recently bought my second pad, it will take some time to purchase a couple since they are about the same price as a box of disposable pads, but once you have them you no longer need to keep buying.”

This is all information that Angelina publicly shares on her low-waste journey Instagram account, @thelowwastegal. She has been so open and transparent about her journey, but had to grow the courage to get to this point. She was very hesitant to start an Instagram page separate from her personal account because she was basically back to square one. At the start of the pandemic, Angelina had to put a pause on her low-waste journey, backtracking her progress, and in turn, resulted in her creating more waste prior to when she started her journey.

“As things began to get back to normal, I was able to re-introduce some low-waste habits again, and I then started my Instagram account at the beginning of 2021,” Angelina recalls. “I also felt very new to the low-waste lifestyle and I barely had begun a year prior to the pandemic. With the pandemic, a lot of my low-waste habits had to stop due to safety concerns. For example: not being able to bring your own produce and grocery bags, no more bulk section, a lot of one-use cutlery and dishware when eating out, etc. Even though feeling new to the lifestyle I reassured myself that this does not happen overnight, you will not be perfect – progress over perfection – and you will get to educate and inspire others along your journey.”

Her main goal is to help educate others on realistic sustainable changes. Especially since she felt as though she was back at the “beginner” stage again after almost a year of the pandemic, she knows how overwhelming everything can be when you decide to take that first step. In the beginning, it is easy to compare yourself to others who are creating no trash, and it can be a little discouraging. Angelina prides herself on being transparent about her journey with her followers so they can see that it’s okay not to fully transition right away. Also, she wants to share her tricks and tips, as well as what she has found that works for her thus far. Angelina hopes her page makes it easier for others to just start.

@thelowwastegal page is helping keep Angelina accountable. Having a public low-waste page encourages her to keep going with her own personal journey so she can spread that knowledge that can help someone else. However, there are times where she feels pressured to be perfect in her waste management and create zero waste, but it is at these times that she has to quickly remind herself that she is not perfect. All that matters is she’s trying her best, and will eventually turn into a pro, but at her own pace. She knows that she will get there one day, and thinks it’s important to share those little hiccups online because people can relate in not being perfect.

Angelina’s content on @thelowwastegal’s Instagram page is inspired by her everyday normal activities and chores. That’s part of the reason why starting a low-waste lifestyle can be difficult to start – it applies to everything you do on a day to day basis. Because of this, Angelina will share her cleaning products, what she uses for her hair, face, laundry, etc. Her most popular posts are the ones focused on doing groceries. Sometimes it can be a little challenging to come up with new content to post, but she gets a sense of what interests her followers when they interact with her.

Her posts are very intimate, and just by watching, you feel like you get to know Angelina on a personal level. She has received so much positive feedback, and she’s so grateful that her followers are reaching out and connecting with her. Recently, she’s been getting a lot of questions about the period underwear, and she hopes to make a post on her honest opinions and experience with it soon. She absolutely loves getting feedback and questions from her followers because she feels like she’s helping someone transition to a low-waste / zero waste product. Through @thelowwastegal account, Angelina has interreacted with many like-minded individuals and has found a spot in the low-waste community. Whether it be online, or in person at refill stations, community composting gardens, or other events.

Not only is she helping people through social media, but those around her are starting to change their habits for the better as well. She is extremely grateful for her boyfriend’s support. If Dominic wasn’t on board with the transition, Angelina believes that she would not be able to move forward with a low-waste lifestyle solo because they share a life, living spaces, and products. It has been more of a learning curve for Dominic, but Angelina loves his willingness to keep trying and to be there to encourage her to continue. Other members of the family are willing to try different things as well. When Angelina’s mom visited them, they took her to a refill/ zero waste store. Her mom took her advice to try out reusable cotton rounds, and Angelina was ecstatic. To others, it might seem like a little change, but to Angelina it was a big deal because it is 1 less thing her mom has to toss out and keep purchasing. Dominic’s mom has made it a point to use her compost bin, change out paper towels for reusable towels, recycle more often, and regrow her veggies. This gave Angelina the idea to do the same! Her aunt, who is very resourceful, started to make her own cotton rounds an reusable toilet paper. These small – but impactful- changes that her family and those close to her are making warms her heart.

Angelina’s low-waste journey has not been linear. She has had her fair share of ups and downs, feeling defeated, and overburdened with guilt. Feeling guilty is still something that Angelina is working on. She feels as though she’s at the stage in her journey where she is trying to manage her guilty feelings. On one hand she wants to take accountability so she can do better, but on the other hand, she knows that she is not at an expert level, and backtracking and some mistakes will occur. And that’s okay. Instead of trying to make herself feel bad about making waste, she tries to think of ways in the future that these incidents can be avoided.

I think acknowledging my decisions helps me out a lot, because instead of trying to ignore my guilt or what I considered myself to be doing ‘wrong’, I am acknowledging my actions and thinking about ways I can better the situation I am currently in for the future,” She explained. “(Like) eating out and creating so much plastic waste, next time I will bring my own cutlery set, cloth napkin, and reusable straw. I have been struggling with this situation often, so this is my most relevant and recent example.”

She knows that this lifestyle takes some time, space, and money. She has learned that living a low-waste lifestyle calls for keeping random things that you’d usually throw out to save for future low-waste projects and DIYs. However, that takes a lot of space, and their apartment space can be limiting. Still, she is hopeful for her progress in the future, like having plans to one day have her own garden so she can grow her own food, participate in more cleanups, and maybe even one day host a cleanup session.

As her journey continues, Angelina stresses the importance of being 100% transparent to her followers because it shows the realities of her transition. Living a low-waste (and eventually zero waste) lifestyle is never going to be a straightforward journey. She is aware that she has a lot of learning to do, as well as changing old familiar habits. @thelowwastegal account has made it easy for Angelina to showcase her struggles, as well as being openly vulnerable to the public. But she loves that others out there can connect with her story and journey because they might be feeling down on themselves as well. When you’re feeling guilty and frustrated with backtracking on your progress, it is nice to know that there are others that are going through the same thing, and that you’re not alone. She wants to create a space that is realistic for the vast majority of people who are new to this lifestyle. Since she is at the the transitional stage – no longer a beginner, but also not an expert – she believes sharing her findings will benefit those who are just beginning.

I would just like to end with a quote: ‘Little impacts from one person, turn into big impacts, collectively’(from @thelowwastegal),” Angelina said. “It is important to recognize how big of an impact you have and changing habits can have a positive impact on the planet. You may feel like just one person, but you can inspire another person, which can turn into a collective effort.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s