Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals in the Chinese calendar of festivities [1]. In an age where festivals in most cultures have become commercialised, here are some ways to celebrate a more eco-friendly Chinese New Year(CNY) so that one may conserve resources, while enjoying the festival in its true spirit.

1. Recycle while spring cleaning Any festival is a great opportunity for spring cleaning prior to the celebrations, and CNY is no exception. Sort items for recycling such as paper, plastic and cans. Give away old clothes and furniture to charities such as the Salvation Army, instead of throwing things away.

2. Minimise the use of packaging, paper and disposables. According to Green Power, Hong Kong, “Every year after Chinese New Year, at least 70 million red packages are disposed, equivalent to logging down 3,600 trees.” During Chinese New Year wrapping papers used for gift packaging consumes nearly 1,600 trees and 170,000 litres of petroleum as fuel annually.
  • * Instead of using new banknotes every year for hongbao (gift money), the production of which requires the cutting down of trees, use notes that look new, rather than going for the brand new freshly printed ones. If anyone in your family receives new notes during the year, do a swap with them. Give them old notes and keep the new ones, so they can be used for the occasion.
  • *Instead of using red-packets which get permanently sealed, use packets that are reusable. Also use packets that do not have the year’s zodiac sign printed on them, so they can be used again next year. If you have to give different packets to different members of the family, give one packet for the entire family, rather than individual packets. You may also recycle hongbao envelopes into colourful lanterns as shown here.
  • * Make your own hongbao envelopes using old gift wrappers or recycled paper using this template. Go in for non-disposable diu lian (wall scrolls) [2]which can last for several years. Similarly, make your decorations at home using recycled materials, or buy decorations which are long-lasting and can be reused for many years instead of the throwaway ones. Colourful paper lanterns can be made using old magazines or paper.
  • * Minimise the use of gift wraps, as a lot of resources go into their making, only to be thrown away. Use recycled bags, or reusable bags instead.
  • * Avoid disposable cutlery if you’re having guests over, as it adds to the waste after the event. If disposables are a must, then at least get the biodegradable ones made of vegetable matter.

3. Avoid eating endangered species like shark fins and reef fish. Many species are facing extinction because of overharvesting. According to Wikipedia, ” Over 100 million sharks are killed every year, a portion of which due to the demand for shark fin soup. Major declines in shark populations have been recorded in recent years—some species have been depleted by over 90% over the past 20–30 years with a population decline of 70% not being unusual.”
There is enormous cruelty in the process of getting the fins. The sharks are caught and their fins are often cut off when they are still alive. The sharks are then thrown back to sea and are left to die a slow and agonising death.

4. Beware of the use of colourings, artificial flavourings and preservatives in the seasonal sweets like steamed puddings, fried dumplings, sweetened fruits and vegetables, glutinous rice balls, and seeds. Foods coloured deep red, to symbolise the New Year, contain chemicals that can be harmful to human health. Some of the preservatives which are misused are Benzoic acid and sulphur dioxide. Orange is another overused colour in Chinese New Year confectionaries.

5. Make more vegetarian or vegan dishes as they are healthier for the body and the environment. Why not try a vegan version of Buddha’s delight and theChinese New Year Cake Nian Gao(Sticky Rice Cake)? Yum!

6. Avoid or use in moderation seasonings and sauces that are high in salt like plum black yellow bean sauce, soya sauce and oyster sauce. Instead try flavourings from ginger, garlic, pepper and five-spice powder (fennel, clove, cinnamon, peppercorn and star anise).

7. Minimise the use of fireworks. Fireworks are often used during many celebrations including Chinese New Year. Many toxic chemicals and heavy metals are used in the manufacture of fireworks which contribute to air and water pollution.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, dear friends…and here’s to a planet friendly celebration!
Other links you may be interested in:
Saving the Planet with a Green Christmas Celebrating a Green Diwali
How to celebrate a Green Holi
How to celebrate a Green Birthday Party
The Zodiac Story of the Chinese New Year
Discover your Zodiac sign according to the Chinese calendar

Some of the ideas have been taken from the free e-book available on this website called “A Quicklist of 1001 Steps to Save the Planet.”

[1] Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is sometimes called the ” Lunar New Year” by English speakers. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month (Chinese??; pinyin: zhe-ng yuè) in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year’s Eve is known as chú xi-. It literally means “Year-pass Eve”. (Source: Wikipedia)

[2] Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”. According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nien (Chinese: ?;pinyin: nián). Nien would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nien ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One time, people saw that the Nien was scared away by a little child wearing red. The villagers then understood that the Nien was afraid of the colour red. Hence, every time when the New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nien. From then on, Nien never came to the village again. (Source: Wikipedia)
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