It’s that time of the year again. The last of monsoon showers are cleansing the Asian part of the world (metaphorically and literally), signalling the onset of the festival season. There is a certain zing in the air, spirits get high and a celebratory mood is palpable. However, this year nothing is the same as last year or years before that and we all know the reason for that. In the view of the pandemic, many festivals this year have shifted online and the ones to come are expected to be celebrated on a much smaller and quieter scale. But every cloud has a silver lining and so does this. This is a good time for us to consider eco-friendly and authentic ways to celebrate festivals while still having loads of fun:
Think green while decorating
No, we do not mean literally the colour green, but what it signifies. Think of all the environmentally friendly ways in which you can decorate yourselves and your house this year (as well as in the future). Here are some green décor ideas for you:
- Rangoli-making is a big part of Diwali decorations with kids and adults alike sparring to show off their artistic skills. Instead of using chemical-based rangoli colours, use natural colours and dyes like rice flour, turmeric powder, kumkum and petals and leaves of different colours to bring a fresh vibe to your design. What’s more, once done you can use the petals and leaves to add to your compost bin (here’s how to compost at home) and save the natural colors for the next year, making it an eco-friendly Diwali year after year! Read our article for more ideas on easy and fun ways to decorate your home this Diwali.
- With studies showing that 79 % of plastic produced gets accumulated in landfills and ultimately finds its way into the oceans, the need to measure our consumption of plastics is urgent. Pumpkins, elaborate costumes, delicious candies and buckets to collect treats are all an integral part of Halloween celebrations and they can continue to be so in more eco-friendly ways. Instead of having your Halloween costume shipped from halfway around the world in disposable plastic packaging, think of creative ways in which you can produce an award-winning costume from material lying around at home. All you need is a sewing kit and an internet connection. If you are not really the crafty type, why not check out your friend’s closet? Some people have boxes full of costumes from previous years. If your kids are into super heroes, our article on DIY Wonder Woman costume is a must-read. Convince your kids to replace those plastic buckets with pillow cases and rattan baskets (a la little red riding hood). For your pumpkin fix, don’t waste food for decor: swap out real pumpkins for artificial ones that you can reuse for a long time (yes they are available on Lazada and look quite real). Our guest author Juhi Khanna gives an interesting tutorial on upcycling old décor (including artificial pumpkins) for celebrating Halloween in an eco-friendly way while not denting its festive spirit.
- Chinese New Year is the perfect excuse to continue the festivities post-Christmas, and red lai see packets are a key part of its tradition. But did you read the survey estimate that more than 16,300 trees are used each year to exchange some 320 million red envelopes in Hong Kong alone? Add Singapore into the mix and, well, I leave the math up to you. Before tossing your empty envelopes into the bin make sure to search for ways to make decorative lanterns or even jewellery for a more eco-conscious Chinese New Year. We have that covered for you in our article on upcycling the red envelopes into some cool lanterns and other green décor items. To further reduce lai see waste, gift packets without the coming year’s Zodiac animal on them, so that people receiving them are able to reuse them. And (yes there is an and), tuck in the flap of the envelopes rather than gluing it so that people receiving them don’t have to tear it open.
- To ensure the longevity of the decorations try using blue tack instead of tape so that things don’t tear or get spoiled when you take them down.
Family that eats together uses (a lot of) disposable cutlery together
There is a saying about “Family that eats together….” . I will refrain from commenting on whether the family stays together or not, but it does end up using a lot of disposables together! Check your cupboards (and ask your neighbours) to see if you can in fact stick to reusables. In the absence of enough cutlery (also the pain of washing all those plates and spoons), this Onam, Diwali and honestly for any festival, use banana leaves to reduce the impact of festivals on the environment. Alternatively, you can consider using food-based cutlery, however, be mindful that some of these are fused with plastic, and others take up high energy, water and land resources – so do read the label and do not propagate greenwashing. (Detect greenwashing through these top tips.)
Food and then some more
Be it Diwali, Onam or the Chinese New Year, all carefully laid diet plans go out the window when the festivities begin. But our rate of indulgence and wastage is beyond ….for the lack of a better word…..retribution. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), Singapore binned approximately 744,000 tonnes of food in 2019. (I think I threw up a little bit here) So, what can we do about this? For beginners, we could consume less. It is really that simple.
- While the amount of food prepared in restaurants is not under our control, the portions prepared at home is. By opting to prepare meals at home during festivals you would ensure that you prepare only what is needed and help curb food waste. An added advantage of cooking at home during festivals (for instance baking pineapple tarts during Chinese New Year) is cutting down on the use of margarine and thus palm oil. For the uninitiated, the palm oil industry was responsible for at least 39% of forest loss on the biodiversity-rich island of Borneo between 2000 and 2018. And it has been suggested that up to 300 football fields of forest are cleared every hour for oil palm plantation! Is it just me or did the air just get more polluted and hazier?
- If you are buying food items from outside or ordering out, ask friends and family members for guidance on portion size and preferences. In this way you can ensure that what gets ordered gets eaten.
- To celebrate Halloween in an eco-friendly way, make candies and treats at home. Your kids would already be feeling a huge sugar rush during Halloween and you don’t have to add to the haul by preparing excess (where they continue to binge on candies well after Halloween).
In fact, low waste cooking should be an integral part of our daily routine, follow these handy tips to run a low waste kitchen from guest author Vyshnavi Doss – a jewellery designer by profession, who often experiments with foods and recipes. You can also be creative in packing them up: a few years back, our co-founder Lara Rath used toilet paper rolls to craft halloween candy holders. Her kids and the ‘trick or treat’ crew loved the results. Try it out!
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure
Be it food, clothes or furniture, we have an abundance of everything. Enough to share with those who are in need as the festival season approaches.
- For a sustainable festive season, donate leftover food to different charities and organizations. With this you could not only reduce waste but spread some festive joy too.
- Spring cleaning before festivals such as Diwali and the Lunar New Year is a way for people to sweep out bad luck and welcome good luck. Old clothes, old furniture, old toys are thrown out in a hope to declutter our homes (and our souls as well). In 2019 Singapore produced 161,000 tonnes of textile waste (I am not even getting into other material waste here). Instead of adding to the already overflowing landfills of Singapore, you can give items in good condition to friends, swap them for new ones or donate to a charity.
Wondering where you can donate unexpired food items that you will not use or other household items- furniture, clothes, accessories, electronic goods- that are in mint condition after you have decluttered? We have most bases covered in this article on Declutter, Donate and Dispose in Singapore!
Think about your commuting choices
As per a news report, “In Singapore, private cars contribute more than a third of emissions by the transport sector”. This might inspire you to carpool or use public transport to get to your Diwali party or Chinese New Year dinner going forward. With studies suggesting that going car-free can save 2.4 tonnes of greenhouse gas emission a year- I would say it is worth a try.
Go green; gift green
Do you feel too awkward to attend a Diwali party without getting the host a gift? Do you feel Christmas isn’t Christmas without gifts for kids? Many of us are caught in a perpetual dilemma between following the social niceties and making sustainable gifting choices. Worry not. We have your back.
- Set a new trend this Diwali season by gifting your family and friends a herb plant instead of a plastic wrapped box of sweets (which they have ample of lying around anyway). You can choose herbs that are easy to grow in Singapore – such as the Indian Borage, Thai basil, lemongrass, mint and ginger – in which, also mail them this handy guide from Chloe Chotrani– a farm guide and media manager at Bollywood Adventures- on how to take care of them.
- If gifting is unavoidable, then buy what you think is needed by the recipient and shop for gift items which are sustainable and promote eco-conscious consumerism. Two platforms that aggregate and curate eco conscious brands in Singapore are Green Day and Green Collective.
- It is never too late to begin teaching kids about environmentally responsible choices. The sooner the better I say. Here is a curated list of socially-conscious and eco-friendly gifts for kids if you have younger ones to please this festive season!
With so many options (and easy ones at that) available, there’s really no excuse left to not have your most sustainable festival season yet.