Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

You can’t make green without yellow.

And I wouldn’t be as “green” as I am today without my stereotypically frugal Asian family.

My dad taught me the importance of reducing and reusing before recycling. For example, when I’m done with a meal, I instinctively wipe off my plate with my lightly used napkin. Without the extra gunk, washing the dish is easier and requires less water to clean.

If you accidentally take more napkins than you need at a restaurant, don’t throw them out — tuck them away in your purse instead. You might need to wipe your nose or clean up a spill later.

We get a lot of extra uses out of plastic bags – wrapping meat thawing in the refrigerator and lining small trash cans. Other people use them to keep bicycle seats dry when it rains or pick up animal waste. For the bags you don’t use again, find a place that recycles them. Many grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling.

Though I encourage people to buy pricier, eco-friendly cleaning products, rechargeable batteries and paper towels made from recycled paper, I find that most eco-friendly efforts are at the expense of time or convenience and not money.

It’s about hanging onto that plastic bottle or can until you see a recycling bin. Most people would recycle if they see a recycling bin next to a trash can. However, it takes an extra effort to put that bottle back into a tote and take it home.

On that note, you don’t need a canvas totebag for every supermarket or store. You only need a few to carry groceries and maybe some cuter ones to carry textbooks. If you’re just getting a drink at a convenience store, say no to the plastic bag. My dad always used to remind me to bring a tote bag to the library or when I go out because they’re handy and more durable than plastic bags.

You have to commit to reuse. For a while, I brought a new water bottle to school every day. It saved me from buying drinks at lunch, which saved me one or two dollars each day. But I got thriftier and smarter. Now, I refill my BPA-free Camelbak a few times a day — it saves money and lessens my reliance on one-time-use products. Drinking water during the day keeps my skin hydrated, too.

While I learned most of these eco-friendly tactics from my parents, I thought of a new, Asian-inspired way to go green last year. My sister bought me these beautiful black chopsticks that came in a satin-like holder. I considered all the bamboo trees that are cut down every day to make disposable chopsticks.

After that, I resolved to put the chopsticks in my purse when I go to eat at a place that uses disposable chopsticks. When I’m done slurping up lo mein, I take them to the bathroom and wash them off with soap and water, so they’re clean for the next use.

Water is a renewable resource, so cleaning something is better than creating more trash.

On that note, try to bring your own food storage containers to restaurants or lunch carts. It reduces the need for Styrofoam, which is actually a petroleum-based material called polystyrene that sits in landfill long after we’re gone. Some coffee shops offer a discount for using your own thermos.

Being green doesn’t take a lot of time or money and is about making small investments such as planning and buying longer-lasting, florescent light bulbs.

I didn’t realize until I came to college that while my dad was teaching me to be economical, he was also helping me be ecologically conscious. Thanks, Dad.