This is an original article written by Cedric Choo.
With the Lunar New Year just around the corner, this festive season marks a period of observance of new traditions, as well as familiar celebrations. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Phase 3 of Singapore’s re-opening means that many of us can still visit each other and gather to celebrate the New Year.
But even as we meet our relatives and friends to celebrate, we should also be mindful of the impact these celebrations have on the environment. The Lunar New Year festive season has always been accompanied by increased consumption and waste, such as plastic containers from snacks, and food waste from our gatherings. How can we be more sustainable while not compromising on the festive mood?
Here are 6 ways we can be more environmentally conscious during the Lunar New Year:
1. Hosting a gathering? Plan ahead for food.
Image by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
hen hosting a gathering with friends, many of us tend to overbuy food for fear of being a bad host. But ending up with too much leftover food, however, is arguably much worse as we are forced to throw it away. According to the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment, even during non-festive periods, 24% of households often threw away spoiled or rotten food because they either bought too much food or did not realise that they had food hidden at the back of their fridge!
Alternatively, we can reduce the potential amount of food wastage by considering these questions as we plan ahead for our Lunar New Year gatherings this year:
- How many guests are you expecting?
- Do any of them have any dietary restrictions?
- What are their appetites like?
- Have you checked your fridge or cabinet to see if you already have some food items or ingredients you can use?
- How long are the expiry dates of the foods/snacks you are purchasing?
Taking some of these questions into consideration can not only drastically reduce the amount of food waste generated, it can also save us a sizable amount of money.
2. Turn leftovers into dishes
Image by Mae Mu on Unsplash
Lucky for us Singaporeans who absolutely love our food, having leftovers doesn’t mean they have to be thrown out. In fact, we can extend the shelf lives of our food by investing in airtight containers or bags, and better yet, reinvent and whip up other delicious dishes with our leftovers.
One common leftover from our Lunar New Year gatherings is Bak Kwa – not surprising given its ubiquity as a snack served during the festive period. Many may not relish the thought of finishing bak kwa by itself after Lunar New Year celebrations, given how much of it we have eaten over the past several weeks. To finish up leftover bak kwa, it can be used in fried rice to add flavour, as the sweetness of the bak kwa imparts a unique aroma and fragrance to the dish.
Examples of bak kwa fried rice recipes include these from Noob Cook and Eat What Tonight. Furthermore, bak kwa isn’t the only leftover that can be made into dishes. You can practically utilise almost any leftover food items with the right recipe and instructions!
3. Donate any extra non-perishable food
Image by Nico Smit on Unsplash
f reinventing new dishes with leftovers isn’t your strong suit, you can also consider donating any leftover non-perishable food you have to various food banks around Singapore, which will go on to benefit underprivileged communities. With that, you’re not only reducing food wastage, you’re also doing something good in the communities that may not be able to enjoy or afford the food we get to enjoy during the festive season.
Organisations such as Food Bank Singapore, Food From the Heart, or Willing Hearts take food donations in kind. Simply make sure to carefully read the instructions on each organisation’s website before you donate any excess food to them
4. Ditch or reuse the plastic
Mentioning the Lunar New Year in Singapore inevitably conjures images of the bright-red plastic packaging used to contain all our New Year goodies. However, this also contributes to an excessive amount of packaging waste. Why not reuse these containers, or even better, make your own goodies so you avoid the plastic containers altogether?
The plastic containers can be washed and repurposed into containers for condiments such as salt, sugar and other spices. It can also be used to store things like milk powder and laundry detergent powder. If you want to dispose of the containers, however, consider recycling them in your blue recycling bins at your void deck. Do make sure to clean and dry them properly before doing so!
Alternatively, making your own Lunar New Year goodies can be extremely easy and fuss-free as well, such as this air-fried crab stick recipe. Not only do you avoid single-use plastic, you also save a considerable amount of money while enjoying these activities with family and friends.
5. Spring cleaning your home? Consider selling it second-hand or donating.
The Lunar New Year means that many households engage in spring cleaning. This presents a great opportunity to evaluate what you really need as you declutter your home.
Do you really need to replace the item you are disposing of? Or can you do without it? Chances are, if you did not reach for the item in the past few months or even forgot that you had it in the first place, you definitely do not need a replacement.
Disposing of our items, however, can also be done in a more environmentally conscious fashion, instead of contributing to waste. We can sell them online on platforms like Carousell so someone else is able to utilise it fully. We can also ask our friends or acquaintances if they would like to have our pre-loved items, which can be, if you think about it, a really nice gesture. In that vein, we can also give away your items for free to other strangers on several platforms. Carousell has an option to list your item for free, and Olio is an application dedicated to giving away food and non-food items to strangers.
A snapshot from Olio’s website
Many of us may contemplate donating our items to charities around Singapore as well. While donating to charity might seem like a really good idea to many of us, it really should come as a last resort. In truth, many charities are often seen as “dumping grounds” for our unwanted clothes and household products. As a result, they are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of donations and require spending more money on manpower to dispose of items that end up not being sold. So, if you do decide to donate your items to charity, make sure they are of decent quality and you are confident that your donated items will be purchased by someone else.
6. Swap clothes or shop ethically
When it comes to the Lunar New Year, many people often purchase new clothes and wear them to symbolise a fresh start to the New Year. But such a practice contributes to the detrimental effects of fast fashion on our environment, and the continued perpetuation of labour rights abuses in less developed countries. The business model of the fast fashion industry – selling extremely cheap clothes in large amounts – contributes to excessive consumption as a lot of resources are required to manufacture these clothes!
Insert this video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq0–DfC2Xk (About the high cost of fast fashion)
According to Earth.org, the fast fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water among all industries. This is because raw materials like cotton are very water-intensive – producing a cotton t-shirt alone requires 700 gallons of water, while a pair of jeans requires 2,000 gallons of water. Dyeing textiles is also the second-largest polluter of water in the world, as many factories located in underdeveloped countries often dump toxic chemical byproducts indiscriminately into water bodies. Suppliers of many large fast fashion brands have also been caught using forced and child labour to produce textiles.
Getting new clothes for the New Year doesn’t mean we have to contribute to such problems. For one, we can try swapping our clothes with our friends, or at places like The Fashion Pulpit. Alternatively, we can also consider thrifting from places like New2U or Lucky Plaza. Instagram also has a host of thrifting options to be discovered – shops like @vintagewknd, @loopgarms, and @manikinvintage are great places to start! Or if you are feeling adventurous, you can also dive into the #sgthrift (or #sgthrifts/#sgthrifting) hashtag on Instagram to discover new places to thrift!
A sustainable future
Following these tips can ensure our Lunar New Year gatherings are more sustainable, but do not compromise on the festive mood. These need not be limited to the Lunar New Year, and can be incorporated into other special occasions such as Hari Raya, Deepavali, and Christmas, among others.
Inculcating these practices into our festive gatherings can also help demonstrate to future generations that it is possible to mindfully practice a sustainable lifestyle, even during such festive periods.