Reusing old ‘Lai-see’ to create colourful crafts and ornaments. © Josephine Ng

Giving out ‘Lai-see’, a.k.a. red packet is no doubt an integral part of Chinese culture. Every Chinese new year, kids are crazily happy to get the “blessings” from adults in a red packet. The tradition has a side effect though: it creates an impact on the environment. Hong Kongers use around 320 million red packets on average each year, equivalent to killing 10,000 trees. I always reuse red packets, but not all of them can be reused easily. This time I am going to challenge myself and my daughter to give the old red packets a chance to become something meaningful.

‘Lai-see’ with Chinese zodiac sign cannot be reused in the coming year, but they are perfect for making DIY toys. © Josephine Ng

Originated from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), red packet used in the imperial palace were handmade from cloth, while in ordinary families, people just wrapped the lucky money in a red paper after writing their new year blessing on it. The red packet that we use nowadays takes its form and shape from the 1900s onwards, where the latest designs are getting more and more exquisite:  hot stamping, cartoons, with slang, and made with good quality paper. Although some of them are difficult to reuse, especially those inscribed with symbols of the zodiac year and surnames, they are perfect materials for handicrafts. 

Golden Fire Dragon: Recycling Lai-see from the year of the Horse

Turn to the opposite side, use your two thumbs to press the side of the toilet roll as shown on the right-hand side of the picture. © Josephine Ng

The Chinese zodiac takes 12 years to reach another cycle, so if you want to reuse the red packets with the zodiac sign, you have to stock up for more than a decade! I still keep some of it as they are really in good quality. Say the golden horse red packet that I used this time, I got them 5 years ago. Now I can turn them into an interesting dragon!


1 Toilet paper roll, 1 golden packet, crepe paper (in orange or red), silver-coloured paper, and 2 plastic eyes.

Steps for creating the dragon head. © Josephine Ng


We start work out the dragon body first.

  1. Cut the red packets as shown in the upper right-hand side of the picture
  2. Cut the red packet to make it 0.5-1cm longer than the toilet roll
  3. Glue the paper and toilet roll together
  4. Follow the picture on the bottom right-hand side, press the remaining 0.5-1cm paper into the toilet roll, and glue them tight. This will be the dragon mouth.
Steps for creating the dragon’s eyes and its flame. © Josephine Ng

Now it is time to work on the ‘flame’.

5. Cut the red/orange crepe paper into strips

6. Stick the crepe paper strips one by one onto the dragon mouth. For better ‘flaming’ effect, you can stick more strips onto the palate

7. Make 2 pairs of silver-colour paper balls, 1 big and 1 small. They are the eyes and the nostrils. Use white glue to stick them onto the paper roll. 

8. Last but not least: ‘Dotting the eyes of the dragon’! Stick the plastics eyes onto the bigger pair of silver-colour paper balls. 

We are done! Kids can try blowing air into the dragon’s head, it will immediately become a fire dragon!

Recycled ‘lai-see fish’: Wishing you a year of abundance

These paper fish are good materials for making ornaments or other artwork. © Josephine Ng

The Chinese character ‘fish’ has the same sound as the word ‘abundance’. If you wish a Chinese friend “every year have fish”, you will see them beaming with joy. Fish is also a popular symbol in Chinese new year ornaments or ‘Fai-Chun’. The recycled ‘lai-see fish’ can be further made into different kinds of decorations. You can put them together with a string to become ornaments, or stick them onto a thick paper to create a new year artwork. 


1 Toilet roll, 2 red packets

Steps for making the fish body. © Josephine Ng


  1. Cut out the packet as shown, and glue them to the toilet roll
  2. If you are using standard middle-sized packet, you will find the paper is 0.5-1cm longer than the toilet roll. Just press the remaining paper into the toilet roll, and glue them tight. This will be the mouth of the fish
  3. Turn to the opposite side, use your two thumbs to press the side of the toilet roll as shown on the right-hand side of the picture
Steps for making the fishtail. © Josephine Ng

4. Choose another red packet, draw the fishtail

5. Use a glue gun to stick the tail into the body

6. Further glue up the fishtail and the toilet roll

7. Put clothes pegs onto the fishtail until the glue dried

Final steps: put up the fish eyes and its fins. © Josephine Ng

8. Make the fish eyes and the fins with the remaining red packets, cut them out

9. Stick them onto the proper positions, finished!