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7 ways you can celebrate the Lunar New Year more sustainably

Green is the new red. Enjoy the festivities and keep traditions alive while reducing your environmental impact with these tips.

TEXT: MORGAN AWYONG

IMAGES: SWAPAHOLIC SINGAPORE; REPAIR KOPITIAM; SING SEE SOON; SHUTTERSTOCK; SINGAPORE FOOD AGENCY

During the Lunar New Year, it is common to observe auspicious customs such as exchanging mandarin oranges and red packets, as well as tossing yu sheng (raw fish salad). However, you’ll also want to be mindful of the environmental impact of these practices. According to Hong Kong-based environmental group Greeners Action, more than 16,300 trees are felled each year to produce some 320 million red packets. That alone may give us pause for thought on how we can evolve our customs to minimise waste.

The good news is, we can keep our Lunar New Year traditions alive while being kinder to the planet. Consider the following tips and kickstart the year of the Dragon on a sustainable note.

1.SHOP PRUDENTLY

Purchase a single household item or outfit as a symbol of new beginnings, rather than overhauling your home or wardrobe. It takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt, so you’ll want to minimise the waste from fast fashion. You can do so by picking long-lasting pieces over throwaway ones, or consider joining the circular fashion movement through thrift or swap shopping — which happens to be very much on trend. When shopping, opt for local businesses instead of international e-commerce platforms to reduce the carbon footprint from overseas delivery. Ladies can consider Beyond the Vines and Ong Shunmugam for contemporary pieces suitable for Lunar New Year outings, while the lads can look dapper in threads by Benjamin Barker and biro. For locally-made wooden furniture pieces, check out Roger&Sons.

2. DECORATE AND DECLUTTER WITHOUT BEING WASTEFUL

Consider what you can reuse or recycle when doing your spring cleaning. Too often, our throwaway culture means items don’t get the lifespan they deserve. When decluttering, see if the items can be repaired by experts such as Jia Xing or SG Home furniture — or learn how to do so yourself at one of Repair Kopitiam’s workshops. If you must give away items that are in good condition, pass them on to the needy through The Salvation Army or Cloop bins set up by a circular fashion enterprise.

When it comes to decorating, look at existing materials you can use to dress up the home. Repurpose a Christmas wreath into one for the Spring Festival, or create beautiful lanterns from last year’s red packets. If you really must purchase decorations, opt for biodegradable or natural materials over metal or plastic.

3. PURCHASE LONGER LASTING PLANTS

Instead of adorning your home with short-lived blooms such as the Hyacinthus or Narcissus, opt for hardier, lower-maintenance plants such as bamboo, chrysanthemums, and azaleas. Besides requiring little moisture and growing easily indoors, the resilient and auspicious money plant is adept at filtering out common indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene. When buying these plants, pick out those in permanent or compostable pots to reduce plastic waste. Join a free floral arrangement workshop by local florist Sing See Soon, which weaves sustainable lifestyle hacks into its classes.

4. CONSIDER PUBLIC TRANSPORT WHEN MAKING YOUR VISITING ROUNDS 

In Singapore, land transport accounts for about 15 per cent of carbon emissions. You can help lower this number by utilising our efficient network of public buses and trains. Last year, SMRT’s train services were extended for commuters travelling late during the eve of the Lunar New Year — stay tuned for updates on this year’s schedules. If you must travel by private transport, consider carpooling, shared car hire, or using the services of electric car-sharing companies like BlueSG. 

5. RETHINK RED PACKETS

RETHINK RED PACKETS

Offer digital versions by using PayNow via major banks instead. This way, you can even send your well-wishes to those who can’t make it for gatherings. If you still prefer something more traditional, use recycled red packets in good condition and skip the new notes — especially since the carbon emissions generated from printing new notes for Lunar New Year each year is said to be similar to that from powering 430 four-room HDB flats annually. You may also want to drop your crumpled red packets at recycling bins found at most major banks , which are often available throughout the year.

6. SNACK SUSTAINABLY

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), about 900 million kg of plastic is discarded every year in Singapore. Avoid individually-wrapped items to help reduce such waste. Purchase Lunar New Year goodies from bakers who accept container returns. You can find some of them at Project bECOme and most even offer you a small refund. Even with mindful buying, you can easily get carried away with treats during this period. Be sure to keep track of their expiry dates and reduce food waste by sharing or giving the excess goodies away.

7. PURCHASE LOCALLY-GROWN PRODUCE FOR YOUR REUNION DINNER

You’ll not only reduce the carbon footprint from importing ingredients, but will also enjoy the freshest produce possible. Singapore is home to several local vegetable farms and fisheries that supply delicious stock, but you can also look at businesses such as Ugly Food, which sells blemished and surplus produce that is nutritious and safe to consume. While fish is associated with abundance and therefore a popular Lunar New Year menu item, its supplies are threatened by overfishing. Have a more eco-conscious meal by consulting WWF’s guide for more sustainable seafood options.

Interested in serving beyond your obligations? Consider the Volunteer Extension Scheme, which allows PNSMen who have completed their NS liability to continue serving beyond their statutory age. PNSMen (With NS liability) who have passed their statutory age of 40 years (Junior Officers) & 50 years (Senior Officers) may apply.

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