Chinese New Year – a perfect time to begin a zero waste lifestyle

Chinese New Year – a perfect time to begin a zero waste lifestyle

The ancient traditions that accompany the Chinese New Year are well understood by Hongkongers. However, as with Christmas, those celebrating in true style create a great deal of waste. With our landfill almost at the point of overflow, we’ve come up with a few ideas on how you could minimise the impact we have on our fragile world.

Old furniture up-cycled to make new again

1          Cleaning and Decluttering

This custom is symbolic for ousting bad luck with the advantage that the Chinese New Year is a perfect time to begin your zero waste lifestyle.

Why? It offers an ideal opportunity to dispose of those things you don’t really need by donating or recycling, rather than sentencing them to be dumped in landfill. You could also up-cycle your old furniture and make it look brand new, or why not update that old sofa with a beautiful throw!

Chinese signs of the zodiac - Chinese New Year

2          Decorations

Red is a symbol of energy, happiness and luck and so a favourite colour of Chinese culture. If you need to buy any items, keep your display minimalistic and purchase decorations that can be reused again over the coming years.

You could purchase 12 small items representing each sign of the zodiac and bring the relevant one out each year. Or consider innovative ways of including each year’s sign into your decorations. If you own a dog, for example, you could highlight him or her as your 2018 mascot!

Digital wallpaper illustrating a dog and Happy Chinese New Year

Image courtesy of

Why not create a digital wallpaper from images of dogs for your laptop or iPad and use this as a static display when family and friends join you for celebrations? Or simply download a ready-made one here.

3          New Clothes

The tradition of buying a new outfit for Chinese New Year’s Eve can feel mandatory for those with family members who believe these symbolize the welcoming of new fortune and growth for the coming year, but the fact that most are only worn once means it’s a waste.

Many of us already have items in our wardrobes that are new or practically new which could be worn for the occasion. Or why not look through your belongings and see if you can create a new outfit by mixing and matching items you already own.

If you need to buy something, consider purchasing from brands that produce their goods ethically, and consider how these could also be worn in the future. Buying something fairly plain and dressing up with jewellery or a scarf, means your outfit can be worn again and again. Wearing a red scarf during the festival season is one way of entering the spirit of the Chinese New Year (see main image).

4          Red Envelopes

Red envelopes, known as ‘Lai See (Cantonese) or hongbao (Mandarin), are a way for people to share blessings and wish happiness and peace in the New Year. In China, the red envelope is called yasui qian, which translates as ‘suppressing ghosts’ money’.

However, recent Cathay Pacific research found that 320 million Lai See packets are given annually in Hong Kong, and as they usually carry the zodiac sign of the year, it means that under 2% are reused; this alone creates one of the largest negative impacts on our environment during the Chinese New Year.

As a result, the airline decided to recycle crew uniforms destined for landfill into beautifully designed, reusable Lai See to encourage a more sustainable way of giving. All profits from their sale will go to a local Hong Kong charity. Discover more here.

Or why not buy re-usable non-year specific red envelopes and packets? Alternatively – and very common among the younger generation – is the popular digital red envelope, an online money transfer with a colourfully designed message. PayMe by HSBC app is the local option – simply download for free, and start sending your Lai See. Zero waste sorted!

Selection of food for Chinese New Year

5          Food and Drink

The copious amount of food and drink on offer during Chinese New Year usually means that plenty gets thrown away. In relation to food and drink, zero waste is simply about careful planning of our meals so that nothing gets discarded. Planning in advance means you all share in providing delicious food at the celebratory festivities.

Mandarins - gifts for Chinese New Year

Give gifts of food you’ve prepared yourself and create your own Yu Sheng. Prepare homemade cookies and other goodies and present in a reusable glass mason jar – always useful to have around the home. Dress up loose fruit using flowers and other organic materials and present in a previously used basket or container.

And so the primary elements for moving towards a zero waste lifestyle in the upcoming Lunar New Year are:

  • Minimalism is key;
  • Declutter: donate, recycle or up-cycle items in your home;
  • Retention of decorations for use each year;
  • Up-date existing outfits or buy for longevity from ethical brands;
  • Utilise digital platforms to expand on the concept of a cyber Chinese New Year;
  • Use organic materials without packaging wherever possible;
  • Plan your meals so that nothing goes to waste.

Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

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