Lunar New Year

Go green to enhance good fortune in the Year of the Rooster

Wendell Chan says celebrations usually leave a mass of waste in their trail, but a few conscientious choices can change that, starting with the kumquat tree

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:38am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 6:09pm

The time of celebration and the time of waste is once again near. Families are rushing to make last-minute purchases for the Lunar New Year.

Last time around, Hong Kong’s flower markets threw away 23 per cent more waste than the previous year. More than 16,000 trees were cut down to make 320 million red packets – most of which ended up not being used. Tubs full of unsold goldfish were left to rot in gutters after the festival. There are many things to comment on, but let’s look at the popular kumquat trees.

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The small citrus tree symbolises wealth and good fortune, for the words gam () and gat () in its name. Or at least it is supposed to, considering that we throw out these symbols of “wealth and good fortune” after a couple of weeks. Last Lunar New Year, around 40,000 kumquat trees were disposed of in Hong Kong. That is about 1,400 tonnes or 60 double-decker buses in weight. For comparison, the city produced 111 tonnes of yard waste daily, on average, in 2014.

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Although the Housing Authority and other groups run recovery programmes, only a small percentage is reclaimed, with most of the trees entering landfills.

Most things – particularly woody materials – take much longer to break down in the dry and airless conditions of landfills. Even 50-year-old newspapers were found to be still readable. The decomposition process also contributes to climate change through methane emissions. Organic waste such as food scraps and yard waste can instead be composted for use in gardens and so on.

Eco-farm urges Hongkongers to recycle Lunar New Year trees for compost

The kumquat trees are more than just decoration. Their golden fruits can be preserved in salt or used to make jam. They are valued in Chinese medicine for treating sore throats and coughs. Sadly, the trees we get for Lunar New Year are grown for ornamental purposes. They are sprayed heavily with chemicals for pest control. In most cases, the fruits still contain excessive pesticide residue and are not suitable for consumption.

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However, don’t throw out the pot just yet. Kumquat trees can bear fruit two or three times a year. All it takes are green fingers and some gardening tools. Once the fruits have fallen off, prune a third of the branches and the root ball, change the soil, add fertiliser if desired, and water. Proper care will have it ready for the next year, avoiding the need to buy a new tree. Better still, you can enjoy the pesticide-free fruits of your labour.

Of course, the best choice is always to think twice before buying something: happiness and good fortune do not follow a wasteful lifestyle. So let’s celebrate Lunar New Year in a greener and more conscientious manner.

Wendell Chan is project officer at Friends of the Earth (HK)