Eco-friendly Immigrant Ways

Anna King
3 min readJun 21, 2019

The last time I visited my Asian parents, I came upon a few odd items that they keep around. Sometimes, it’s not the item itself that is odd, but rather its particular use.

Growing up as an immigrant, there is often a mentality of scarcity. We need to save to get by. We need to conserve to keep costs low. We need to thrift and stretch in order to make ends meet. My parents and many other immigrant families continue to live this way. You don’t need to tell them to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Immigrants already do.

Think you’re saving the planet by using your reusable grocery bag? You ain’t got nothing on these immigrant practices.

Extend your loofah’s life

You know those plastic mesh bags produce may come in? You can’t recycle it and fish get tangled in them. You need to cut it all up in order to throw it in the garbage. If you really must buy produce with this type of packaging, you may as well make the most of it by reusing it where you can.

Sample mesh packaging with kiwis
TA-DA! Extend the life of your loofah! Who needs epidermis anyway?

Conserve heat, you’ve got clothes

My home is a balmy 22–23C almost of the time. It’s comfy and conducive to productivity according to this study. But we’re in a climate crisis, so it’s not unreasonable to simply put on a few more layers to save electricity, save on your bill, and ultimately, save our planet. My parents keep their home at a lovely 16C.

Actual thermostat — the eco-mode leaf is happy
My husband, working remotely from my parents’ place

Toothbrush retirement

Every toothbrush in the household has a retirement plan as a cleaning utensil. Before recycling it, scrub some soap grime off the rim of your bathtub, brush out stains on grout in between tiles, and clean that hard-to-reach edge of the toilet. My parents have a toothbrush in every shower, kitchen sink, and next to the planters. Just don’t mix ‘em up. It’s a one-way street.

Think this toothbrush is too frayed for use? Think again!

Reusing plastic bags since the beginning of time

Before the craze of reusable grocery bags, immigrants have been reusing plastic bags until they had holes in them, and even then, holey plastic bags were still usable for larger dry items. Many families can relate to the last step of grocery shopping after all the food is put away: folding the triangle!

Plastic bags, smoothed out, folded into triangles for future use.

Cat food and cat poop

A friend posted this eco-hack the other day: melting old candle wax into cat food cans for candles that mask poop odours. Brilliant!

Photo and idea courtesy of Dora Ng’s mother

It’s not just hipsters that come up with eco-hacks. Immigrants have been conserving, reusing, and maximizing resources for a very long time. Though it’s not the glam life or the trendy way, there’s always small things to be learned from everyone when we aren’t too snobby to look and listen.



Anna King

Former CMO promoted to Stay-at-Home Mother. Gaining ground towards dignity and empowerment in Women's Health.