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Friday, March 24, 2023

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Maricruz Carrillo poses in the Powder Technology Lab she conducts research at SDSU. (Melinda Sevilla/SDSU) Maricruz Carrillo poses in the Powder Technology Lab she conducts research at SDSU. (Melinda Sevilla/SDSU)

Environmentalism and Engineering: How PhD Candidate Balances Both

SDSU Engineering PhD student Maricruz Carrillo talks about overcoming difficulties of being a graduate student and how she supplements her life/income with her passion project: Menos Waste.
By Melinda Sevilla

Maricruz Carrillo knows all about the struggle with work-life balance. 

She’s an engineer and eco-entrepreneur. A graduate student and active community member. All of her work benefits her communities’ well-being with an overriding goal: leaving the world a better place.

Enrolled in San Diego State University’s mechanical and aerospace joint Ph.D. program in the College of Engineering, Carrillo attends to her coursework and dissertation on her research on 3D printing and sintering of ceramics for surgical uses.

By night, she pivots to her role as founder of Menos Waste, which creates zero-waste beauty and hygiene products. Menos (Spanish for “less”) sells sustainable hygiene products and also serves as a platform for consulting/speaking services that supplement her income as a graduate student.

Carillo says the two callings in her academic and personal life are “completely different,” but both aim to serve people for the greater good. “All of my research background that I have here as a scholar is being applied as well,” she said.


Carrillo was born in Rosarito, Baja California. She always had a knack for STEM in high school, joining a robotics club and taking an introductory engineering course. After attending SDSU for her undergraduate degree in mechanical and bioengineering, Carrillo stayed on to continue her graduate studies, with a doctoral degree now just one semester away.

Her natural leadership skills led her to serve a term as Graduate Student Union president, one of the communities for which she strongly champions. “I saw the need for the graduate students to have an advocate,” said Carrillo.

Earning countless awards along the way, including prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, Carrillo’s academic journey at SDSU has spanned almost 12 years and through almost three degrees. 

“My family says I’m part of the furniture,” she joked. 

Carrillo said she realized her doctoral work and personal life lacked balance. 

“I realized I was feeling super isolated and not doing enough for my own humanity,” she said. “In undergrad you have classmates going through the same program as you, but in a Ph.D you might not.”

She channeled her energy into a personal passion project. Calling sustainability a “form of resistance,” Carrillo tied her work into her community by creating an initiative that was good for both the environment and the communities around her.

Less Waste

“Menos Waste is rooted in my motto: Good for you, your wallet, and the planet,” said Carrillo. 

She started by making recipes and selling natural body oils, toothpastes, teas, antiperspirants, and more.
This is where her experience designing and conducting experiments in SDSU’s Powder Technology Lab came in handy. Her packaging needed to be as sustainable and efficient as possible, so she decided to ship her products in glass jars rather than cheaper plastic.
“I had to switch the packaging a few times,” Carrillo said. “For example, it happened a few times with the oils, the oils are just messy.”

With success quickly coming through her products, Carrillo expanded Menos Waste’s services to consulting for small businesses looking to improve their sustainability as well as speaking engagements to educate her communities, both on-campus and in the local community. For instance, Carrillo recently gave a talk on food waste at The Mighty Bin, a North Park zero-waste grocery store. 

Carrillo actively practices a zero-waste lifestyle, using public transportation and her bicycle to get to work. She said the longer commute time allows her to focus on her work. “If I were driving I wouldn’t be able to work on content for Menos Waste,” she said. 

Her active TikTok and YouTube content includes her living her sustainable philosophy, sharing tips varying from how to make veggie broth from scraps to how to recycle your contact lenses and cases.

Latinx Community

Her cultural heritage provides another driving force.

“I have always been the only Latina in the room in my classes so to be a Latina and to be recognized is important for other women of color looking at the university and a big driving factor in my professional life,” Carrillo said in an earlier SDSU NewsCenter article on being named scholar in the Chancellor’s Doctoral Incentive Program (CDIP).

Carrillo wants her story to inspire others to make a difference in their communities, too. “I am passionate about empowering and inspiring my community and believe sharing our story is imperative in honoring our journey as we grow together,” she said.

Most importantly, Carrillo wants to make sustainability accessible to everyone.

“Sustainability has become this fancy and elitist thing even though it shouldn’t,” she said. “In my community, people have been making sustainable choices for years.” She also advocates for making sustainable choices that don’t necessarily need to be expensive or visually appealing. 

“Sometimes reusable stuff is just messy, but investing in things that are good for you and the planet can be good for your wallet.”

The company’s headline is “Poquito goes a long way,” just another nod to her binational identity and the way she wants to serve her Latinx community. 

After all, she didn’t name her company Less Waste by accident. 
“I include the menos in there so that you know I’m talking to my community,” said Carrillo.