10 steps to a greener Chinese New Year

Tan Cheng Li The Star 5 Feb 13;

The Lunar New Year festivities do not have to be a burden on the environment. Here are some ideas to celebrate the season while caring for the Earth.

1. Don’t eat endangered species

The Chinese’s penchant for exotic food is harming wildlife. One dish to avoid is shark fin soup. As many as 73 million sharks are killed every year, many for their fins, and nearly a third of shark species are threatened with extinction, according to a 2011 report by the Pew Charitable Trust’s global shark conservation campaign. Facai moss is another food to avoid. The harvesting of facai (which grows on the roots of grass) has turned millions of hectares of grasslands in China into desert. China outlawed the sale of facai in 2000. Thus, facai available on the market is illegal. Artificial facai can be a good alternative. Abalones and sea cucumbers are also harvested in many countries with little or no management in place, causing them to be easily over-fished.

2. Sort your waste

Have a few bins, boxes or bags ready for the different recyclables. That way, it will be easier to sort the trash for recycling when the festivities end.

3.Buy in bulk

Refrain from offering drinks in single serving cans or TetraPaks. Buy big bottles instead and serve the drinks in glasses. You’ll have less trash at the end of the day.

4.Eat your greens

Chinese New Year meals often feature lots of meats, which are unhealthy for your body and the planet. Let’s change tradition and include more vegetables on the menu.

5.Beware of food additives

Look out for harmful chemical colourings, artificial flavourings and preservatives in seasonal delicacies such as preserved fruits and meats, pickled vegetables, candies, cookies and dumplings. Food dyes which have provoked concern are Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3 (erythrosine), Yellow 5 (tartrazine) and Yellow 6, while the additives are sulphites, nitrates, butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene.

6.Skip the fireworks

Toxic chemicals and heavy metals are used in the manufacture of fireworks, which also contribute to air and water pollution.


Bring our own bag when shopping, to reduce consumption of plastic bags.

8 Cook just enough

Tradition dictates that lots of food must be prepared to symbolise wealth and abundance. This, however, translates to wastage. So, don’t overcook, and turn leftovers into another dish. And don’t forget to compost the kitchen waste, including mandarin peel.

9.Don’t add to waste

If you’re having guests over, don’t give in to the convenience of disposable ware. Conventional tableware is so much classier and friendlier to the environment, too.

10.Reuse and recycle

When the festivities end, pack up all the red- and gold-coloured decorations for use again next year.

Angpow for Mother Nature
Meng Yew Choong The Star 5 Feb 13;

Spare a thought for the environment when you give the traditional red packets during the festival.

THIS week, thousands of folks will dutifully line up at bank counters to exchange wads of old (though not necessarily soiled) bank notes for brand new ones – all in the name of tradition.

For the Chinese, it is a must to use crisp, new notes to fill an angpow, the red envelope containing cash that is given out during Chinese New Year for good luck.

The insistence of using only new notes for angpow, however, is far from being a benign practice. Each year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) prints and issues 100 million pieces of S$2 notes in the run-up to the Lunar New Year. But only about half of these new notes are actually required to meet normal circulation demand, meaning that an additional 50 million notes are printed just for the sake of tradition. The unfortunate consequence is that MAS would eventually have to accumulate these excess S$2 notes, and destroy these rather durable polymer (plastic) notes way before the end of their intended lifespan.

Printing bank notes creates a rather significant carbon footprint. In the case of Singapore, printing the extra 50 million S$2 polymer notes consumes more than 200,000kWh of electricity, in addition to 10 tonnes of ink. In the Malaysian context, that amount of electricity is enough to power 1,000 Malaysian homes for a month (each consuming close to 200kWh each month, or nearly RM44).

“This is a waste of precious resources and is not environmentally friendly,” said MAS in a press release last month.

Singapore is not the first to recognise the deletrious effects of using only new notes for angpow. Hong Kong, which is even more steeped in tradition, started the ball rolling as far back as 2006, when the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) ran a campaign to bring about change in the way angpow is given out so that the environmental impact could be reduced.

For Hong Kong and Singapore, the way to go is persuading the public to accept “as-good-as-new” notes, which are fairly new bank notes retrieved immediately by banks right after the festivities ended and kept for the next season. MAS has embarked on an initiative this Lunar New Year to encourage the public to use as-good-as-new S$2 notes. “While MAS will continue issuing brand new S$2 notes, we hope the public will participate in the initiative. We can celebrate Lunar New Year with the giving of angpow, and do our bit in reducing wastage and preserving the environment,” said assistant managing director Foo-Yap Siew Hong.

Its Go Green initiative is supported by the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) as well as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

“Our member banks will promote the use of the good-as-new notes at their branches, automated teller machines and websites. They will also deploy more service staff to promote these notes at the branches and encourage their own staff to use these notes,” said ABS director Ong-Ang Ai Boon.

Singaporean photographer Kwong Kwai Chung thinks it is a sensible move by MAS. “Sometimes, we don’t have time to go to the bank, and sometimes, if we get there, the notes we want are out of stock. As long as the notes look presentable, I will take them. Another advantage of slightly used polymer notes is that they are more easily sorted by hand. Have you noticed how new notes tend to stick to each other?”

Into its seventh year now, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s push to green the angpow-giving tradition remains on course. “As the Chinese New Year draws near, HKMA encourages the public to continue supporting the use of good-as-new notes, instead of brand new ones, for lai see (another Cantonese word for angpow). Good-as-new notes are perfectly suitable for use as lai see, given that Hong Kong’s currency notes are maintained at a high standard of cleanliness,” it said in a press release last month.

What are the chances of seeing a similar initiative happening here? If there is any comfort, Bank Negara has been quietly recirculating “almost new” RM5 polymer notes since its introduction in 2004. “While recognising the tradition of giving angpow and duit raya (during Hari Raya Aidilfitri), there is an increasing need to manage natural resources to preserve the environment and to enhance efficiency in the distribution of bank notes. Re-circulating the notes will reduce the need to print new notes,” it said in a written reply to The Star.

Bank Negara said that its move to introduce polymer RM1 (last year) and RM5 notes was already a green act in itself. Polymer notes generally last three times as long as paper notes. Wear and tear on paper money is costing us plenty. From 1985 to 1995, Bank Negara destroyed 4.9 billion pieces of torn and defaced paper notes. This works out to roughly 490 million pieces destroyed each year and this comes at a significant cost to the environment, other than to our coffers.

Being non-porous, polymer notes do not absorb water, oils and liquids, so they do not deteriorate as fast as paper notes. Polymer notes in bigger denominations have lifespans ranging from five to six years or more while smaller denominations like RM1 and RM5 last between two and three years compared to six and eight months for paper.

Naturally, opinions vary on whether as-good-as-new is good enough. For marketing specialist Wong Siah Ping, a red packet cannot qualify as an angpow if old notes are used. “A new note is pretty much the essence of an angpow, which must not only look like one, but also smell like one,” said Wong, who nonetheless is willing to reconsider her position if there is enough evidence to show that too much harm is done by rigid adherence to tradition.

For reporter Lee Mei Li, using new notes, especially when it comes to RM1 and RM5, hints that the giver had made the effort in welcoming the new year. “It’s always nice to have new notes because it shows that you made an effort to go to the bank to exchange the notes, and that you thought about Chinese New Year instead of doing it all last minute. However, slightly used notes is still OK for RM50 and above, as you don’t give that sum to many people.”

The arduous task of lining up for new notes every year easily riles up many, especially when they are told that their preferred denomination is out of stock. “Bank Negara doesn’t really print many new notes now, right? In the last few years, my bank offered only used RM5 and RM10 notes,” said another reporter, Wong Li Za. “But since the RM5 notes are polymers, they still look fairly new but not some of the RM10 notes. Personally, I like to give and receive crisp new notes. There is a feel-good factor there, compared to getting or giving old, brown or faded notes. I can settle for slightly used notes, provided they are in good condition.”

Writer S.M. Chiew’s way of coping with the annual hassle of going to the bank is by bartering with her children. “I change the old notes with the new ones that they get in their angpow from others. Many people would like to give new notes but don’t have the time to queue up in banks.”

Professor Yam Kah Kean, a specialist in Chinese culture at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, said one must not lose sight of the purpose of an angpow. “An angpow is a token to wish someone good luck and prosperity. It is the symbolism of giving and receiving of red packets that is important, and not so much what is inside the packet,” said Yam.

Half of Hong Kong seems to agree with him. According to HKMA, the share of as-good-as-new notes issued in the run-up to Chinese New Year has increased from 20% in 2006 to around 45% in recent years. Is it time then, that Malaysians consider giving an angpow for the environment, other than for luck?