The New Lunar Year is right around the corner and we are all getting ready to celebrate this auspicious event with family, or at least with 8 of them.
But with a growing population and diminishing resources, it's important that we look to conciliate tradition with more sustainable practices. Here are our 8 easy ways to make a difference and attract good fortune into the Year of the Ox.
1. Sustainably-fished Yusheng
The most popular incarnation of Yusheng has got to be the Qicai Yusheng (七彩鱼生), which means “seven-coloured raw fish salad”, but as its self-explanatory name attests, it isn't vegetarian-friendly. As we've discussed before, seafood consumption is anything but sustainable: 85% of fishing grounds in the world are already overfished or fully exploited. Atlantic salmon - farmed that is - is your best option if you have to choose a fish, and figures on WWF's Singapore Seafood Guide under the "recommended" category that includes seafood species "from well-managed, sustainable stocks which are not considered to be over-exploited".
2. Vegetarian Lo hei and Bak Kwa
Better still, lo-hei to a low-impact dish that is vegetarian or even vegan-friendly. If the idea seems overwhelming and you don't know where to start, book your celebrations at Nature Vegetarian Delights or Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant whose Chinese vegetarian concepts offer indulgent plant-based choices that are perfect for the auspicious day. From "seafood-free abalone" yusheng to 100% vegan Strawberry Pineapple Tarts 草莓凤梨酥, you won't feel as though you're compromising your delicious traditions for the planet - and will feel better inside too! You can even follow Singaporean website More Than Veggies' guide to make your own plant-based bak kwa or order it online.
3. Avoiding Single-use and dealing with CNY cookies
Project bECOme's Coco is definitely our green cookie monster every Chinese New Year. She started the concept of a Circular CNY which aims to cut food packaging waste by promoting a circular business model of reuse of containers.
If you are collecting CNY sweet treats, bring your own containers, your barePack FlexBoxes, and spread the word that it's free for bakeries to join the barePack network to offer its customers reusables to borrow. You can then conveniently return them any time, to any of the participating bakeries or restaurants instead of hoarding boxes you will definitely run out of ideas and need for!
4. Send an e-hongbao
Every Chinese New Year is the festival of the year that really sees "hongbao" or angbao as we would say in Singapore (red packets) - flying out of the stores. A Chinese tradition, Singaporeans celebrating Chinese New Year are familiar with the in-person act of handing out the hongbao among family and friends, a tradition that begs to change this year amidst the pandemic safety regulations. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) encourages swapping the paper envelopes for electronic ones, something that is already common practice in China via the messaging app WeChat. Customers of Citibank, DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, UOB, and Maybank can add a Chinese New Year greeting with specially designed festive graphics via WhatsApp or SMS. Remote gifting is still preferable amidst our Phase 3 reopening during which celebrations are still be restricted to gatherings of 8 people and queues, especially outside public service buildings, are discouraged.
Electronic hongbao or e-hongbao are not carbon-neutral however they do cut down on production carbon-emissions - an estimated 330 tonnes according to the MAS - and the subsequent waste generated (with its own carbon footprint). Need more convincing? In terms you can relate to, that's the equivalent to charging 5.7 million smartphones or one smartphone for every Singaporean resident for five days. Ok, so while your grandparents might have a hard time adjusting to this, we think this is one tradition that will increasingly go digital with the younger generations.
We have barePack e-Hongbao (Green Baos!) too! Send a barePack annual membership to start the Year of the Ox with good habits.
5. Don't waste food over Lunar New Year
The abundance of food during Chinese New Year gatherings is believed to bring an abundance of wealth, health and prosperity for the coming year, which is why you will be familiar with the extravagant and excessive tables laden with special dishes (many with their own auspicious meaning) if you have attended any of these celebrations. Make sure to preserve leftover food to repurpose it into new dishes later. At the supermarket, don't fall for promotions that are tempting you to buy more than what you need. If you have excess, consider the app OLIO to find people to gift to.
At restaurants, order fewer dishes and ask your waiters for advice on portion sizes as well as options to take home. Bring your own containers (or your conveniently collapsible barePack FlexBoxes) to dabao the excess for later or to share with your neighbours.
6. What to do with Chinese New Year mandarin oranges
How many of us will receive generous amounts of mandarins over Chinese New Year that will go to waste? These delicate fruits can actually go mouldy pretty fast in our humid weather, especially with the recent increase in rains from neighbouring monsoons and lack of sunshine. Besides the plethora of ways you can eat mandarins, both the pulp and the peels, there are homemade recipes for skincare products. Mandarin oranges are particularly rich in Vitamins A, C and E which combined with their antioxidant properties make for a skin tone improving and regenerative cocktail. They can also double-up as eco-friendly and natural gifts for friends and family. Make sure to wash your peels to remove any pesticides or use organic fruits if possible.
Chinese New Year Mandarin Orange Body Scrub
2 mandarin oranges
1 cup organic coconut oil
1/2 cup sugar
Grate two mandarin orange peels finely into a large bowl
Add 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of coconut oil (you can use a different oil with a higher melting point too)
Mix together until you get a homogenous aspect
Transfer your homemade body scrub into an airtight glass container.
7. Dress up for CNY without buying new
We all like to dress nicely for celebrations, especially the most important one in the lunar calendar year. But do we need to buy new clothes, really? Textile waste represented 168 000 tonnes of clothing tossed out in 2019 of which only a mere 4% was recycled. The second-hand market is overloaded with donations, so we really must fix the problem from the root: reduce our consumption of new products and buy mindfully. A few practical ideas to get something "new to you"!
Buy second hand (Carousell, Facebook groups, charity shops)
8. Recycling CNY red packets in Singapore
Many of us will nonetheless receive physical hongbaos, and if you can't find a use for them at home, do not put them in the blue bins where they risk food contamination (for example, from mouldy mandarin oranges...) and missing on getting actually recycled. Instead, drop them off at red packet recycling bins located at many banks, such as the full-service DBS and POSB Bank branches.
What are you doing this Chinese New Year to reduce your excesses and celebrate more consciously?