BEIJING -- For more than 1.3 billion Chinese, Spring Festival, or the Lunar New Year, usually offers an irresistible excuse to revel, dine, travel and exchange gifts, with the belief that a prosperous beginning marks happiness for a whole year.
But for those who become increasingly conscious of environmental protection, following such traditions may bring concerns that excessive revelry might not be green, or environmental friendly, enough.
An environment-related educational campaign in China has launched an action called "Green Spring Festival," urging the public to save energy, reduce pollution, and prevent wasting during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, the country's most important festival.
Its Web site, the 20 Ways to 20 percent (www.20to20.org) offers 20 tips to holiday-goers on energy saving, such as spending more time with family members and friends in stead of watching TV, avoiding throwaway wooden chopsticks in restaurants, and using less fireworks and firecrackers.
The public is also encouraged not to purchase gifts with excessive packaging, and to be environmentally savvy during traveling by turning off lights in hotel rooms and re-using bath towels and bedsheets.
"Spring Festival is a joyful time for family reunions, but it's also a peak period of energy consumption because of frequent celebrations, big food and gift purchases, and more trips," said Cai Tao, a media officer with the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF's) China office.
WWF launched the "20 Ways to 20 percent" campaign in China two years ago to promote public awareness of and engagement in energy conservation.
China hopes to lower its energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent by 2010. "But this goal can not be achieved easily," said Cai.
"This means that saving energy in everyday living will be vital to reaching China's energy efficiency goal," he said. "At the beginning of 2009, we should start from a low-carbon holiday."
Almost 4,300 people across the country have signed up on www.20to20.org to demonstrate their support to "low-carbon" Spring Festival since the activity was launched 20 days ago.
"WWF hopes about 20,000 people will be involved in the campaign by the end of February," Cai told Xinhua in a telephone interview.
A total of 20,000 postcards carrying energy-saving messages and made from recycled paper were sent to 100 colleges and universities in 12 Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Wuhan, Chongqing and Nanchang, earlier this month.
"We hope young students to bring these messages to their family members and friends when they go home to celebrate the Spring Festival. Young people can be very influential if they become more environmentally conscious," Cai said.
He said his office would evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign, and planned to take similar measures in following Spring Festivals.
WWF also worked with popular Web sites in China, such as qq.com and sohu.com, to promote the idea of "Green Spring Festival."
In a message posted on qq.com, a netizen who did not identify himself or herself said he/she would buy less bottled water because it consumes much more resource and energy than tapped water does.
"Environmental protection is everyone's responsibility. I will play less fireworks and firecrackers during the holiday," reads another message.
The sentiment has been echoed by a community in Tianjin City, 120 km east to Beijing.
On the New Year's eve on Sunday, more than 800 households in Mingshida community, Hexi District of Tianjin, did not use fireworks, a thousand-year-old tradition in China that is thought to help drive away evils while bringing good luck, according to a report of People's Daily online version.
"Fireworks can add festive atmosphere. But it also produces a lot of noise, air pollution and injuries. So we try to persuade our neighbors to replace this tradition with other entertainment such as playing games, dancing and organizing a chorus," said 68-year-old Li Yuezhuang.
But it seems that the majority does not agree with Li.
Sanitation employees in Shanghai, China's finance hub, worked through the night to sweep up some 1,200 tonnes of fireworks debris left behind by revelers on Sunday evening as they welcomed the Lunar New Year.
In the national capital Beijing, 69 tonnes of fireworks debris were collected on Sunday evening, 14 tonnes more than the same night last year.
Fireworks had been banned in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai in the early 1990s due to safety concerns. Over the past two years, the ban was loosened to help people enjoy a more festive atmosphere.
According to statistics of the Beijing municipal government, the sales volume of fireworks and firecrackers this year is estimated to be 30 percent more than last year.
"The air pollution caused by fireworks on Sunday evening was quite obvious. I could feel it even on the next day," said Cai, who is spending holiday in his hometown in Henan Province.
"With educational efforts, more and more people are becoming aware of environmental issues. But when it comes to traditions and celebrations, many tend to forget the environmental things," he said.
"It means we still have a lot of work to do to raise public awareness," he added. (Xinhua) Updated: 2009-01-29 14:05