Tips on how to live green in an Asian household

On a personal mission to spread the word about sustainability, Eudora Koh gives five key changes to implement to your home and lifestyle.

Growing up in my parents’ Asian household until my mid-20s, the lifestyle then was much different than how I live now — specifically with consumption, purchasing, and behaviour. 

While I respected my parents’ decisions as it was their home and I was living under their roof, it was in hindsight an uncomfortable realization to admit that awareness of my environmental impact was not a priority. And from talking to Asian friends around me, I wasn’t the only one. 

Reflecting on my lack of knowledge from my childhood has motivated me to educate those around me to make incremental changes at home, ones that have a significant impact for the benefit of our environment and planet. Education on environmental sustainability was a key piece missing when I was growing up, and since then, I’ve been on a personal mission to spread the word. 

Here are some tips on how to begin living a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle at home – relevant in any household:

1. Use your dishwasher to … wash dishes! 

There seems to be a common misconception that washing by hand is cleaner and better for the environment than using a dishwasher. I’ve seen dishwashers used for anything but washing dishes, like storing plastic bags (see point No. 2) or pots and pans. 

Modern dishwashers are not only faster and cheaper to run, they are also more water and energy efficient than washing by hand. Simply put, a dishwasher will use less water for a load of dishes versus washing the same amount of dishes by hand, where often water is left running throughout.

2. Avoid single-use plastics 

This includes plastic bags, bubble tea cups, and straws. And if you haven’t started yet, you will in a couple of years. 

It was announced in June 2019 that Canada’s government will ban single use plastics as early as 2021. But “where will I put my fruits and veggies in grocery stores?” or “how am I supposed to drink BBT?” 

The answers are simple. Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store and skip the small plastic bags for your fruits and veggies (do you really need to put oranges, apples, and bananas into bags?). Solve those BBT woes by purchasing a reusable cup (one-time cost), which comes with a reusable straw and a cleaning device for it.

Photo credit: Rosalind Chang

3. Limit your takeout

If your parents are anything like mine, they enjoy grabbing food to-go from those congee houses or Hong Kong-style cafés. This typically results in Styrofoam, aluminum, plastic, or wax-lined brown-paper containers that end up in the landfill or recycling — depending on how much effort someone wants to put into sorting their trash. 

Since becoming more aware of how my choices impact the environment, I’ve not only limited my takeout meals but have done what some may call the unthinkable: Ask a restaurant to put my ordered food into my reusable glass container. Granted, this is disruptive and requires a change in behaviour; but if it didn’t, then what’s the point? 

Restaurants are becoming more accommodating of patrons who are mindful of the waste they are generating. In years to come, there will be more restaurants like this, not less.   

4. Consume less meat

If only I had known more about this while growing up in a household that loved to buy BBQ duck, pork, soy chicken, and many other types of meat from Asian grocery stores, such as T&T, Chong Lee, and H Mart. 

When you consider all the energy and resources it takes to raise animals — from greenhouse gas emissions to water uses — the impact on the environment is devastating. Not to mention that consuming less meat also has multiple health benefits. 

For more about how eating meat harms the environment, check out PETA’s website

5. Times are changing, and so should we 

Assess purchasing decisions holistically and see where to make a behavioural or lifestyle change for the good of the environment. As a society, we are exposed to more information and education which should be taken into account when we make consumption choices. 

Recently, the zero waste movement has seen some stores respond accordingly, such as Nada and The Soap Dispensary which sell only the items you need without packaging. 

Photo credit: The Soap Dispensary

My encouragement is to do your own research to become richer in education and then share that knowledge with friends and family. It may be overwhelming to think about what difference one person can make, but change that frame of mind. 

If you put in effort to become more environmentally conscious at home, know that the changes you’re making positively impacts the environment. Take it from me; it’s much more rewarding and motivational that way! 

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