5 ways to be more environmentally friendly this Chinese New Year

By Nicole Moraleda

From recycling your red packets to making sure your fish is sustainable, there's many small things you can do to go green for the Year of the Rat

By Nicole Moraleda |

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While red may be a lucky colour, we want our Chinese New Year to be green!

Chinese New Year comes with a number of traditions, including big family reunion dinners, house cleaning, and the giving and receiving of money-filled red packets. But one custom we shouldn’t add to the list is having an excessive amount of waste in the bin at the end of the festivities. Red may be a lucky colour, but we want our CNY to be green this year. Here are five ways to achieve this:

Red packets

We get it; you’re excited to open up your lai see packets and count your bills, but before you toss the empty envelops into the bin, see if there are any you can keep to use next year. As for the ones that can’t be reused, you can search online for ways to turn them into decorative lanterns or even jewellery that you can give to your mother or grandmother.

If you’re not the crafty type, the least you can do is dispose of the envelopes responsibly. Over the past decade, Hong Kong environmental group Greeners Action have been running their annual Lai See Reuse and Recycle Programme, with multiple collection points around the city.

To further reduce lai see waste, ask your parents to tuck in the flaps of the envelopes rather than glueing them shut. And make sure they only pick out red packets that don’t have the coming year’s Zodiac animal on them, so that the people receiving them will be able to reuse the envelopes next year.

You can use your red packets to make fun crafts, or recycle them if you're not that crafty.
Photo: Shutterstock

Cleaning

Another big part of the festival is the cleaning that takes place a few days before the arrival of the new lunar year. For many people, it is a way to sweep out the old and welcome in the new. 

It’s always good to clear out your clutter, and even better if you can collect things you no longer use to give away to the needy. There are several used clothes recycling bins around the city, or charity collection centres that will take your pre-loved items.

What usually follows after cleaning your home is a big shopping spree. Though it may seem counteractive to fill up the space you just cleared with new things, it is believed that purchasing new items symbolises welcoming new things in the year to come and getting ready for a fresh start. If you must buy something for the sake of tradition, pick out something that you’re sure you can get a lot of use out of, and not something you’ll just want to get rid of in 12 months. 

Decluttering tips for Chinese New Year 

Decorations

Decorations play a big role in this Chinese holiday. Not only do the couplets, red lanterns, paper cuttings and Chinese knots make your flat look nice and festive, they’re hung up to bring you and your family luck, happiness, wealth and good health in the new year.

We suspect talking your parents into forgoing the tradition is out of the question, no matter how much waste it would save. What you can do, however, is buy (or make!) decorations that you would be willing to keep and reuse each year. Many of the items can easily be flattened and stored in a folder.

Again, try to avoid any designs that include the current year or Zodiac animal. It’s also better to pick decorations without adhesive, and stick them up with Blu Tack rather than tape, to prevent the decorations from becoming damaged when you take them down.

It's better to choose decorations without the year or zodiac animal so they can be reused.
Photo: Shutterstock

Flowers

It’s customary at this time of year for people to buy white daffodils, otherwise known as narcissus flowers, for their homes. This particular flower is believed to indicate how much wealth and good fortune you will have in the new year, depending on how quickly the fragrant flower blooms. Bunches of daffodil are typically bought from flower markets and are sold in plastic or ceramic pots.

Although the flowers that come in ceramic pots are more expensive and heavier to carry home, it will save on plastic waste. It can also help you save money in following years, if you keep the pot. They are usually beautifully decorated and make great homes for other plants when the festival is over.

7 essential greetings for Chinese New Year 

Food

As with most holidays, you can expect to be sitting at many family dinners. In addition to dumplings, which symbolise wealth because of their similarity in shape to ancient Chinese gold ingots, it’s typical to have a whole fish on the table, as it stands for a surplus and fortune in the New Year. 

Before you make your order, download the Seafood Guide from the WWF Hong Kong website, which tells you which types of seafood you should steer away from.