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Everyday sustainability in a throw away society 

  • Writer's pictureBrittany Ainsworth

Zero Waste Chinese New Years + DIY Chinese Lantern

Start this Chinese New Years off right by thinking of your impact on the planet during your celebrations. Eat, drink and pass on good luck with Zero Waste red packets, food, gifts and decorations!

Zero waste chinese new year DIY red packet lantern

Zero Waste Red Packets

In Chinese culture it is traditional for beautiful red packets to be filled with cash and given as gifts during holidays and special occasions. With all these red packets handed out, you do tend to gather quite a collection at the end of the day (if you are so lucky!). This year instead of throwing out any used red packets, store them away to use again or recycle them into decorations.

You could even make your own red packets just remember to avoid white (associated with funerals) and decorate with red, yellow and gold which symbolise wealth and prosperity.

Side Note: Put a little note in each red packet to say who it is to and from instead of writing on the outside of the packet, to be able to use them again for the next special occasion.

Zero Waste Food

Chinese New Years is all about the food and really when is it not in our culture? Make this year a little more special by gathering the family together and baking your own pineapple tarts and love letters. Leave the packaged goods at the store or make sure to reuse the tins when you finish all your treats.

Serve all food and drinks in reusable crockery and cutlery, instead of single use plastics. After a big festive meal no one feels like moving, but allocating cleaning tasks for everyone (the kids) to pitch in to make quick work of washing up.

There will of course be a ton of food at your Chinese New Year dinner so make sure the leftovers don’t go to waste. Send everyone home with a reusable container filled with delicious leftovers and compost whatever can’t be saved.

Zero Waste Gifts

Giving gifts during Chinese New Year expresses respect and passes on good luck for the New Year. Red packets are traditionally gifted filled with crisp banknotes or other material gifts can also be presented.

  • Fresh fruit: Head to the farmers markets with your reusable bags to find the freshest fruit to give as gift. Keep an eye out for apples and oranges which symbolise safety and fortune. If you’re feeling generous buy a box of either one (also handy if you’ve forgotten your reusable bags)

  • Tea: Loose leaf tea bought in bulk and placed in a pretty reused jar

  • Alcohol: Always bottled in glass which can be recycled once emptied

Zero Waste Decorations

Keep your decorations within the theme of red, yellow and gold and you can’t go wrong.

Use fresh flowers which can be composted or chose an orchid which you can continue to grow

  • Arrange a fruit bowl to decorate which you can of course eat at the end of the night

  • Red/yellow/gold cloth napkins and tablecloth

  • Reuse old decorations

  • Get creative with some DIY creations using old red packets (see below)

  • If you do need to buy decorations make sure they are not 'dated' and are versatile, making them reusable for another event

  • Store all decorations to use again next year

Zero waste chinese new year DIY red packet lantern

DIY Red Packet Lantern

Recycle your old red packets by turning them into cute little lanterns to decorate your home this Chinese New Year.


  • Old red packets/paper

  • Cup for circle outline

  • Needle and thread

  • Scissors

  • Glue

  • Pen


1. Turn the cup upside down on your red packets/paper and use your pen to make the outline for 8 circles (eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture)

Zero waste chinese new year DIY red packet lantern

2. Use your scissors to cut out the circles

3. Fold each circle in half with the decorative side on the inside of the fold

4. Glue the outside of 4 folded circles together to create one half and do the same for the other half by gluing together the leftover 4 folded circles

5. Make a tassel for your lantern by cutting strips from the leftover red packets/paper then threading the needle and thread through one end and tying the thread off in a loop

Zero waste chinese new year DIY red packet lantern

6. Aline the tassel string along the seam of one half of the lantern and make a loop with another piece of thread for the top of the lantern

7. Glue the two halves of the lantern together with the tassel and loop thread in-between

Zero waste chinese new year DIY red packet lantern

8. Repeat the process until you have as many lanterns as desired

Zero waste chinese new year DIY red packet lantern

*To make the most out of your DIY red packet lanterns, use them to decorate your Christmas tree too!


Do you have any other Zero Waste Chinese New Years ideas to add? I would love to hear them in the comments below!

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