Monthly Archives: November 2018

Celebrating the end of a chapter

As this academic semester draws to a close, this chapter of my blogging journey also comes to an end. I thought it would be appropriate to end with what inspired my topic for this blog – Christmas. It’s the time of the year again!

Before everyone breaks into a gift-shopping frenzy, I would like to highlight some issues that come with this festive season.


The problem does not lie in the culture of gift-giving itself, but in the types of gifts that we choose. With Christmas comes Secret Santa games and company gift exchanges, where more often than not, we receive gifts that we do not actually need or want. Eventually, these unwanted gifts may end up not being utilized and dumped in the landfill. The packaging that comes with the gift is also a major contributor to Christmas waste. In the UK, close to 100 million bags filled with packaging from toys and presents go to the landfill every Christmas (Francis, 2017).

Mariah Carey’s Christmas hit – All I want for Christmas is you

If everyone was like Mariah Carey, we would never have to worry about the amount of trash gift wrapping creates during the most wonderful time of the year.


Christmas lights in Orchard are iconic of celebrations in Singapore. Last year, organisers thought it would be wise to turn on the lights from as early as 3pm in the afternoon. However, it went unnoticed to most people and added to the large amount of electricity needed to power up the Christmas lights. Thankfully, they decided not to do that this year.

What happens to the Christmas lights and decorations after Christmas? While some malls will reuse decorations where possible to save cost (Tan, 2017), most of the decorations will probably still end up being trashed to make way for new decorations that meet consumers’ expectations in the novelty aspect.

What organisers could do would be to give the decorations away to the public, to give the lights and decorations a second lease of life. This is what organisers have done with Chinese New Year lanterns (Chia, 2016).

My Takeaways

Through this blogging journey, I realized that many celebrations are intertwined with culture and sometimes religion. Take for example, the Hungry Ghost Festival and the Yi Peng Festival. This makes it difficult for governments to regulate the environmental impacts of celebrations through laws and bans. The most immediate solution that individuals like us can take up is thus to make more conscious choices in what we purchase and through our actions.



Chia, R. (14 Feb 2016). Chinatown’s monkey lanterns up for grabs

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Francis, G. (20 Dec 2017). Christmas: Brits will throw away 108m rolls of wrapping paper this year, waste study finds

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Tan, S.A. (19 Nov 2017). Malls all decked out for Christmas without spending more

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Deepavali: Festival of Lights

Yesterday, in Delhi, India, air pollutant levels scaled to 999 micrograms per cubic metre (BBC, 2018), close to 40 times that of the World Health Organisation’s recommended standards (WHO, 2018). The culprit? Fireworks that were ignited to celebrate Diwali (also known as Deepavali depending on the region).

Diwali fireworks worsen the smog in India

Image retrieved from flickr

This has been the case for the past few years – dangerously high levels of air pollution would plague the city of Delhi for days after Diwali celebrations.

While speaking to my Indian friend to find out more about Deepavali, she mentioned that her friends would post photographs of themselves setting off fireworks on social media, then including the hashtag #airpollution.

Why do people light fireworks knowing that they would have to deal with breathing smog for the next few days and potentially cause detrimental health effects to themselves?

This has a lot to do with traditions and customs. Many Indians think of fireworks as the most significant part of Diwali celebrations. For decades, fireworks have been a mainstay of Diwali celebrations. Some even feel that Diwali without fireworks is like Christmas sans Christmas trees.

This year’s Diwali air pollution in Delhi was this bad even after the Indian government imposed a ban on conventional fireworks, allowing only “green” fireworks to be sold (Dasgupta, 2018). The ban barely made a difference as mainstream fireworks were still easily obtainable via black markets (Hizbullah, 2018). Stronger and more effective regulations need to be put in place to have a real effect on pollution levels.

Luckily, this is not a problem in Singapore, where the festival of lights is celebrated with led light-ups instead of fireworks.

This year’s Deepavali lights in Little India

Photo by Roshni Sharma

In Singapore, Deepavali is celebrated mainly through song and dance and feasting with family and friends. Oil lamps are lit and placed around the house and a traditional Indian art, the Rangoli, is created to decorate the house. The Rangoli is a floor decoration made from rice, flour or powder that has been dyed (Lee, 2018).

Rangolis are a custom at Indian celebrations

Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

However, the bright hues in commercial Rangoli powder are achieved by using chemicals like mercury, lead, and bromides (The Hands India, 2018). These chemicals can have harmful health and environmental impacts. Given how fine the powder is, it can easily end up in water bodies, polluting water sources. Traditional methods of using natural materials like turmeric as dyes are thus recommended over commercial Rangoli powder.

Compared to India’s Diwali celebrations which result in serious air pollution, Deepavali in Singapore is much more sustainable. However, devotees in Singapore can further improve the sustainability factor of Deepavali by choosing Rangolis made from natural dyes.



BBC (8 Nov 2018). Toxic smog returns to Delhi after Diwali

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Dasgupta, N. (23 Oct 2018). Indian activists smolder over “green” Diwali firecrackers

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Hizbullah, Md. (6 Nov 2018). Fireworks ban up in smoke across NCR as makers defy Supreme Court order

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Lee, G. (21 Apr 2018). Bukit Batok East residents create giant Rangoli artwork of coloured salt to ring in Tamil new year

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The Hans India. (3 Jan 2018). Chemical colours glitter in rangolis in front yard

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WHO (2 May 2018). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health

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Halloween: Environmental horror?

How did you celebrate Halloween yesterday?

I spent my Halloween taking part in activities organized by my friends from my residential college. As part of the celebration, the colleges in University-town came together to plan an Inter-College Halloween event, where each college designs a haunted house.

 Can you spot me in this photo?

In this post, I will discuss the environmental implications of Halloween celebrations, from small-scale ones in school to large-scale celebrations like the Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios Singapore (USS) and globally.

Inter-College Halloween

To do so, I decided to go behind-the-scenes of the haunted house curated by my college friends.

Behind the scenes of the haunted house

Image on the right by Lam Hoyan

The set-up was relatively simple, and the main materials used were newspapers and trash bags. They also made use of fallen leaves to recreate a forest. I would consider this pretty sustainable given that they used mainly recycled items.

Most Halloween costumes were also made from existing materials. For example, my friend dressed up as a cup of Gong Cha by wearing a white shirt with black cutouts to represent pearls. He then wore a red arm sleeve on one arm such that it would look like a straw when he raised his hand. Almost no one wore store-bought Halloween costumes, which is important because store-bought costumes often contain flame-retarding chemicals, which can be detrimental to human health and the environment (Chow, 2014).

Halloween Horror Nights

In Singapore, the highlight of Halloween for most people would be the HHN at USS. Something cool about this year’s HHN was that the theme for one of the scare zones was centered around the wraths of mother nature caused by the environmental impacts of humans on the planet.

In preparing for this large-scale event, up to 250 litres of fake blood were used (Teo, 2008). Large amounts of energy were also required to produce the props and light up the elaborate set-ups.

Trick or treating

Other than the decorations and costumes, another fundamental part of Halloween that has negative environmental impacts is trick or treating. It is estimated that Americans spend a whopping $2.7 billion on Halloween candy every year (Leasca, 2017). This large amount of candy is usually individually packed, generating waste in the form of candy wrappers. The production of candy is also a resource-demanding process, needing components like cocoa and corn syrup (Leibenluft, 2008). If you wish to find out more about the environmental impacts of sweets, check out this article.

To conclude, I believe that there can be a balance between celebrating Halloween and keeping the celebration sustainable. This can be done if we use our creativity in crafting decorations and costumes from existing materials. Disposable packaging from Halloween candy can also be avoided by buying unpackaged sweets in bulk.



Chow, L. (22 Oct 2014). 5 Truly Terrifying things about Halloween.

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Leasca, S. (30 Oct 2017). Here’s The Very Scary Amount Of Money Americans Spend On Halloween.

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Leibenluft, J. (28 Oct 2008). Black and Orange and Green.

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Teo, J. (25 Sep 2018). Halloween Horror Nights 8: Ranking The Attractions, From Scary To Downright Terrifying.

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