Take 5 with... Anna Masiello from R-Coat!

Credit: Sandro Nunes

Credit: Sandro Nunes

We are back to help you spend your 5 free minutes on an inspiring read! This week we are bringing you Anna Masiello, an active and cheerful entrepreneur and activist from Italy, based in Lisbon at the moment. We met Anna through a common friend, Maria Granel, but we since have met up with her and got some insights into what she is up to! From an environmentally inclined programme at the university to up-cycling broken umbrellas into raincoats… Here is Anna!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself first - what is your background and how did you end up where you are?

I’m the daughter of a forest ranger and a social worker: I like to think that that’s the reason why I always want to hug trees and make people a little happier.

Languages, traveling and being immersed in different cultures have always been a big part of my life. I did my bachelor in Translation and Interpreting with the dream of working as an interpreter in the U.N. (my grandma still counts on this), but soon realised that I wanted to invest all my energy in something related to the environment.

When I found a Master's program in Lisbon in “Environment and Sustainability” I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about this topic while at the same time improving my Portuguese.

In Lisbon I found an inspiring community of people that are active and interested in sustainability and in zero waste, which is a lifestyle that values simplicity in order to have a smaller impact on the planet. I’ve been trying to live as low-impact as possible for a while now and it’s been an amazing process that is teaching me so much everyday!

2. What are your most important projects that you are working on right now?

I have a few things I’m super excited about at the moment and they’re all about giving value to what people usually see as trash!

Anna Masiello and her R-Coat

Anna Masiello and her R-Coat

When it rains, the streets of Lisbon become an open-air exhibition of broken and abandoned umbrellas. To me, the idea of them going directly to landfills or to incinerators just because of one little broken part was unacceptable so I started taking them home… eventually my room was filled with broken umbrellas and I had to find a way to use them! So, I started making R-Coats: one of a kind Raincoats made by Reusing and Repurposing broken umbrellas, in order to Reduce waste.

It’s a challenging up-cycling project mainly because I have no background in fashion or design and I've only just learnt how to sew specifically to develop this project. It’s for sure an intense learning process and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people that are helping me make this project grow.

Then there is ArtZero which is part of my Master thesis.

Traditional Environmental Education often doesn’t work to create environmentally friendly behaviours (e.g. most of us know about the impact of disposables, yet we still buy many plastic bottles instead of buying a reusable one) so I decided to study whether alternative education methods, such as Art and Active Participation, work to create these pro-environmental behaviours! I created an art competition in which participants make art from trash and, at the same time, actively participate in events about sustainability such as talks and beach cleanups. I collected data before the beginning of ArtZero and I will collect more at the end to see if something changed in the way the participants see environmental problems and act about them.

Lastly, I’m trying to raise awareness about food waste and I have a couple of top secret ideas to tackle this problem and the lack of proper organic waste disposal options in Lisbon… it’s a work in progress! For now, I dumpster-dive and share what I find on social media… it’s always shocking to see what supermarkets and shops throw out and it gives me hope to see that everyone else has the same reactions and want to change the situation.

3. What do you think are the most prevalent misconceptions and prejudices towards “reclaim” actions, e.g. so called "dumpster diving”? Any way to overcome those?

I think taking things from the streets or from the trash has always been associated with a lower standard of life and as something that people do when they cannot do better or choose better. I had these misconceptions as well up until not too long ago. We live in a society in which supermarkets only sell products that are all the same shape, size and colors and throw out hundreds of products everyday just because they have little imperfections. Tons of unsold clothes are burnt and destroyed to give space to the new perfect season of items. We are surrounded by carefully chosen perfect things and it becomes normal to see “imperfection” as something less valuable.

Fruits of dumpster diving! Credit: Anna Masiello

Fruits of dumpster diving! Credit: Anna Masiello

I think “dumpster diving” should not be seen as a last resource for a person, but as a choice to give value to what other people decide is not good enough for them anymore. I don’t feel shame in taking edible food or dirty umbrellas out of a trash can: every time we throw something away we are wasting not only the actual thing, but also all the resources that have been used to produce it… so I feel happy and proud whenever I can save things from the garbage and avoid this waste!

4. If you were to perform inception and make people do just one thing differently - what would it be and why?

I think awareness and stepping out of our comfort zone are key elements for personal growth that leads to new behaviors... but motivation to keep learning is often hard to find!

So, I think I would plant the idea of really wanting to take one hour a week to get informed about a new topic and to try something new.

5. Any personal heroes that keep motivating you?

I get motivated everyday by anyone who acts. My heroes are all the people that do something (even the smallest thing) to make the world a little better... I get so inspired to act as well and do some good!