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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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My Ideal Wedding

How weddings typically look like – dreamy with lots of flowers and confetti

Image retrieved from Pixabay

While exploring the topic of celebrations for my blog, my lecturer for the ENV1101 module, Dr Coleman, inspired me to think about the environmental impacts of weddings and my ideal wedding. After all, are weddings not the happiest and most significant celebration of a lifetime?

I thought it would be interesting to ask my friends about their ideal wedding. I’ll share the results of my survey as we go along!

Personally, my ideal wedding would be a memorable celebration with my closest friends and family that is as simple and sustainable as possible with minimal flowers and no wedding favours – because wedding favours usually end up in the bin anyway.

In planning a wedding, making it as dreamy as possible is usually the priority, and few would think of environmental impacts as the main consideration. Weddings thus produce huge amounts of trash in the form of food waste and decorations like fresh flowers, place cards, ribbons, and confetti. The average wedding generates approximately 180kg of trash and 57000kg of carbon dioxide (Harrison, 2008)!

Naturally, having more guests would mean more waste generated due to more resources put into making the wedding reception a success. This is partly why I would choose to invite fewer wedding guests, other than the reason that I do not want my wedding to be flooded with relatives that I meet once every few years. And it seems like most of my friends agree with me. Close to 78% of respondents would invite less than 100 guests to their wedding.

In the survey I sent out, I asked respondents how many guests they would invite to their wedding.

However, one result that took me by surprise was that 6 people said they would put shark fin soup on their wedding menu. As much as serving shark fin soup at wedding banquets is a Chinese tradition, I didn’t think that so many individuals from our generation would still support the practice of eating shark fin soup given the extensive media coverage on cruel finning practices. For more information on the harmful impacts of shark finning, check out this post by my friend Shenny.

In this question, I asked respondents to rate how much they agree with this statement. 1 represents “Strongly agree” and 5 represents “Strongly disagree”.

On a happier note, 10-course banquets are increasingly being replaced by live food stations, buffet receptions and dessert tables (Hitcheed, 2018). This may be able to reduce the food waste from banquets as food is made on demand. Leftovers from buffets can also be packed for “take-away”, instead of being thrown away if it was already portioned out at a banquet. There are also options to repurpose wedding flowers via social enterprises like Refresh Flowers for those who wish to reduce their environmental footprint (Chong, 2017).



Harrison, K. (2008). The Green Bride Guide: How to Create an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Casablanca

hitcheed. (31 Aug 2018). The Best Wedding Trends we expect to see in 2019.

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Chong, C. (21 Sep 2017). Fresh purpose to wedding blooms

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Oktoberfest – The Environmental Oscar Recipient

Have you ever heard of an Environmental Oscar for festivals?

Festivals and celebrations are almost always associated with waste, especially those that serve up food in disposables. One local example is the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar where drinks are sold in plastic bottles or cups, and the food is packed in Styrofoam boxes. In Singapore, waste from New Year Countdown parties amounts to almost 35,000 kg per year (Loke, 2017).

However, there is one festival in the world that has managed to stay sustainable, even landing the city of Munich a project prize for “Environmental Guidelines Governing Major Events” in 1997 also dubbed the “Environmental Oscar” (Department of Labor and Economic Development, 2017).

The Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer and folk festival that originated in Munich, Germany, attracting close to 6 million visitors per year (Bridge, 2018). Despite its scale, this festival serves food on ceramic plates, beer in 1 litre mugs and uses real cutlery, unlike many other festivals that rely on disposables (Department of Labor and Economic Development, 2017). This is partly due to the ban on disposable tableware from 1991 which has reduced trash from the festival by 90 percent (Krause, 2015).

In this photo, festival goers can be seen dining and drinking beer with reusable crockery

Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

Dirty water from dishwashing is then reused to flush toilets, saving water (Department of Labor and Economic Development, 2017).

Since 2012, Oktoberfest has been powered by only renewable energy, from its food stands to toilets to carnival rides (The Munich Eye News, n.d.). This is a significant amount of energy, given Oktoberfest uses enough power for 1,200 households at 3 million kilowatt hours every year (The Munich Eye News, n.d.).

Rides at the Oktoberfest require a large amount of energy

Image retrieved from flickr

All these green practices make Oktoberfest sound like a dream come true for the environmentally conscious, but just how sustainable is the Oktoberfest, given the 7.7 million litres of beer consumed at Oktoberfest on average (, 2018)?

I thought it would be interesting to consider the water footprint of beer. Water footprint refers to the total amount of water that goes into producing the product. For beer, this includes the amount of water used to cultivate hops and barley. Although there are no studies on the water footprint of beer produced in Germany, studies on other countries have found the value to range from 60 litres to 300 litres of water per litre of beer (Kaye, 2011). That equates to at least 462 million litres of water behind the beer that is consumed at Oktoberfest!

Nevertheless, beer is still much more sustainable than milk and coffee, which have a water footprint of 1,020 litres per kg and 1040 litres per litre respectively (Hoekstra and Water Footprint Network, 2017).

This is why Oktoberfest deserved that Environmental Oscar.



Loke K.F. (1 Jan 2017). After the New Year parties, the big clean-up begins

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Bridge A. (17 Sep 2018). Everything you need to know about Oktoberfest – including how to book a last-minute trip

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Krause R. (21 Sep 2015). Earth-lovers in Lederhosen: Oktoberfest goes green

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Department of Labor and Economic Development, City of Munich (27 Jul 2017). The ecological Oktoberfest: a successful model

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The Munich Eye News (n.d.). Environmentally friendly Oktoberfest

Retrieved from: (2018). The Oktoberfest in numbers

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Kaye L. (16 Aug 2011) Breweries across the world strive to decrease beer’s water footprint

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Hoekstra A. and Water Footprint Network (2017). The global-average water footprint of crop and animal products

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Hungry Ghost Festival – Part 3: Solutions

Previously, I mentioned how the Hungry Ghost Festival has an impact on our air quality and general hygiene. In this post, I will discuss the measures that have been or can be taken to mitigate these impacts.

A netizen’s suggestion to move with the times.

Comment extracted from here

Joss paper burning

In some residential areas, the burning bins provided have large holes that cause ash to be blown away easily.

The open-air design of these bins means pollutants are easily carried away by the wind.

Image courtesy of Imgur

In 2014, the government introduced eco-friendly joss paper burning bins with an improved closed top design, which prevents ash from flying out (The Straits Times, 2015). Air vents in the bin allow better airflow to facilitate complete combustions, reducing the amount of smoke and pollutants emitted (Science Learning Hub, 2009).

Left: Improved closed-top bin, Right: Old open-top bin

Currently, all three types of bins are still in use, but I think the government should replace all open-top bins with the improved closed-top ones given its effectiveness in reducing the spread of ash and smoke. Although these improved bins are more expensive, they are definitely a worthwhile investment for better air and health.

Joss Sticks

With regards to joss sticks, more research can be done to explore alternative methods to manufacture incense such that the byproducts from burning it are less harmful. For example, a study found that the use of oyster shells in producing incense can reduce particulate matter emission (Yang C.R. et al, 2012). The calcium carbonate content in oyster shells is resistant to burning, hence facilitating the effective burning of the other components in the incense (Yang C.R. et al, 2012).

Food offerings

After my last post on how food offerings can attract birds and rats, my friend Wan Teng shared on how her grandmother started to bring food offerings home in recent years to not waste food. This unconventional practice (Clarke, 2018) shows that there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to traditional rituals as mindsets and practices can change with time.

While it may be difficult to convince people to consume their offerings, a regulation can be put in place to mandate that individuals remove these food offerings once they are done with the rituals. This would retain the core of the rituals while solving the problems of hygiene. I’m sure the spirits will understand – because who wants to share their food with birds?

These are my thoughts on how we can mitigate the environmental problems from the Hungry Ghost Festival. If you have other suggestions, do share them with me in the comments section below.

With that, we have come to the end of the Hungry Ghost Festival series. While the Hungry Ghost Festival is more sombre than celebratory, I decided to discuss it as its impacts are very relatable to Singaporeans. Next week, I will move on to happy celebrations proper!



The Straits Times (Sep 6, 2015). Eco incense paper burners prove popular

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Science Learning Hub (Nov 19, 2009). What is smoke?

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Yang C.R., Ko T.H., Lin Y.C. Lee S.Z., Chang Y.F., Hsueh H.T. (Jul 28, 2012). Oyster shell reduces PAHs and particulate matter from incense burning

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Clarke, B. (Aug 3, 2018). A guide to the Hungry Ghost Festival: Don’t let the spirits catch you off guard this season

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Hungry Ghost Festival – Part 2: Pigeon Paradise

Last week, I discussed the air pollution that arises from the burning of offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival here.

This week, I will talk about the hygiene issues that come with putting out food offerings on the streets. As part of traditional customs, people put out food items like fruits, biscuits and tea leaves as an offering to wandering spirits during the Hungry Ghost Festival. However, the common practice is to leave the offerings out overnight or until the cleaner removes them as it is taboo to tamper with or consume the offerings. The unattended food becomes a feast for wild animals like monkeys, birds, and rats, producing a slew of problems.

Pigeons help themselves to the food offerings on the ground.

Already, pigeon related issues are a major concern in residential estates. These birds are not fussy about their food and have acclimated to our urban environment such that they now thrive in large numbers.

Leaving food out in the open is akin to feeding the birds, which disrupts the ecological balance in the wild, allowing the pigeons to breed beyond what our natural environment can support (Loo and Kwok, 2018). In other words, there are more pigeons than the fruits on our trees can feed, due to these man-made food sources.

Furthermore, the availability of food causes the pigeons to congregate near human activity (Baker, 2018), encroaching into our living space. Once these birds establish that residential areas are a food source, they may start settling in as our neighbours. This is what happened at my parents’ flat where the roosting of pigeons under the air conditioner ledge is a problem. The pigeons leave the ledge full of feathers and droppings, creating a foul smell.

These wild birds and their droppings carry germs that may causes diseases, posing a great health risk and make our living conditions less desirable. The same can be said for rats, which also feed on these food left behind by pigeons.

Thus, the act of leaving food offerings out in the open has a detrimental impact on our living environment, health and ecological system. Next week, we will take a look at some possible measures to counter the environmental problems of the Hungry Ghost Festival.

EDIT: An earlier version of this post mentioned that pigeons play a role in pollinating trees and plants. This is not true as rock pigeons found in Singapore are granivores that feed on seeds.



Loo, A. and Kwok, J. (Aug 8, 2018). Feeding of wildlife causes host of problems

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Baker, J.A. (Mar 31, 2018). AVA urges people not to feed pigeons amid a sharp rise in feedback about the birds

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Hungry Ghost Festival – Part 1: Is that snow?

Welcome back to my blog!

Over the next two weeks, I will be covering the impacts of the Hungry Ghost Festival as per my observations and explore some possible measures to mitigate these impacts.

The Hungry Ghost Festival that just ended over the weekend is observed annually in the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar, where it is believed that spirits of the dead come to earth and roam around (Tan, 2018). It is customary for Taoists and Buddhists to put out offerings and light joss sticks on the street along their houses to honour wandering spirits and pray for peace and safety for their family members.

Even though my family observes this tradition, I was never involved in the process. To me, this time of the year just meant joss sticks on curbsides, “hell money” strewn all over the neighbourhood and a persistent burning smell.

In order to take a closer look at the effects of the festival, for the first time ever, I followed my grandfather as he performed the rituals on the last day of the hungry ghost festival and here is what we did.

Step 1: Find a patch of grass near our house

Step 2: Set up joss sticks, candles and food offerings as below

A typical offering setup includes candles, joss sticks and some food. 

 Step 3: The last step involves burning paper offerings like “hell money”

The inside of a typical burning bin, featuring my grandfather’s hand.

As I walked around my neighbourhood, I noticed that our offering setup was relatively simple and basic – some others had more than twice the number of joss sticks and candles. A strong smell of smoke permeated the air and ash drifted around with the wind, looking almost like snow.

In this photo, you can see the ash particles from the burnt offerings.

The most obvious impact of the Hungry Ghost Festival would be air pollution. Yesterday in class, I learnt about the different air pollution sources, one of it being area sources, which refer to multiple small sources that may be negligible individually but amount to considerable emissions as a collective whole. It occurred to me that the burning of offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival is a perfect example of area sources.

While surveying my neighbourhood, I counted an average of two burning bins per HDB Block and most were in use. When we consider the combined emissions from the burning bins of HDB blocks across Singapore in the entire month, this could raise PM2.5 levels by 18-60% (Webster et al, 2015). High PM2.5 levels may cause respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses (The Straits Times, 2014) and the danger is amplified by our high population density.

Perhaps it is time that we think of environmentally friendly alternatives? Next week, I will look into some hygiene issues exacerbated by the Hungry Ghost Festival before moving on to possible solutions. Stay tuned!



Tan, C. (Aug 18,2018). Singapore’s Hungry Ghost Festival: what to do in the Lion City during the month-long event … and taboos to avoid

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Webster, R. D. et al (Sep, 2015). Annual air pollution caused by the Hungry Ghost Festival

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The Straits Times (Mar 12, 2014). Budget backgrounder: What is PM2.5 and how it affects air quality

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Dear reader,

Welcome to my blog! I am Si Hui, a Year 1 Environmental Studies student at the National University of Singapore.

Here’s a photo of me at Puaka Hill, Pulau Ubin!

On this blog, I will be exploring the environmental effects of celebrations and festivals.

My inspiration for this topic stemmed from my interest in waste. The idea of waste was something that never sat well with me. Perhaps it’s how I was brought up. I was taught to use things up before buying a replacement, and wasting food was frowned upon.

While reading up on waste, I discovered that Christmas is the most wasteful time of the year. Approximately 108 million rolls of wrapping paper were discarded in 2017 in the United Kingdom alone (Sheffield, 2016). This set me thinking about the environmental impacts of other celebrations, like the practice of dyeing the Chicago River green on St Patrick’s Day and the air pollution from New Year’s Day fireworks.

What are the ugly truths that lie behind our glamorous festivities?

Follow me on a journey around Singapore and the world to look into how various celebrations might have an impact on our environment and how our happiness today might lead to a hazardous tomorrow.



Sheffield, H (Dec 22, 2016). How to stop Christmas waste and the thousand of tonnes thrown away each year

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