Green approach to lai see only halfway there
Reduced demand for new banknotes is not matched by more recycling of those red packets
With the Lunar New Year approaching on Friday, it is good to see that some Hong Kong people have taken an environmentally friendly approach to lai see money - although the same greenness has yet to be adopted for lai see packets.
White Collar has passed through a number of bank branches in the past few days and found many customers in long queues for newly printed banknotes to be used for their lai see money, traditionally given by the married to children or the unmarried as a Lunar New Year gift and blessing.
Newly printed money is not that environmentally friendly as the banknotes are made of cotton and it takes a lot of cotton to meet Lunar New Year demand.
Luckily, there is increasing acceptance of "good-as-new" banknotes for use in lai see envelopes.
According to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the average number of new banknotes issued in the past three years ranged between 350 million and 400 million. The number this Lunar New Year won't be available until after the festivities are over but we can assume it will be similar.
Based on the most commonly seen banknote placed in a lai see packet - HK$20 - the value of newly printed banknotes for lai see would be HK$8 billion. Given some big spenders pay out up to HK$500 or HK$1,000, some bankers say the value of banknotes issued for lai see probably stands at more than HK$10 billion.
If all customers demand the 400 million banknotes be brand new then it would take roughly 532 tonnes of cotton to make them.
In addition, the three note-issuing banks in Hong Kong would need to arrange more than 500 trips with security guard escorts to transport the new banknotes.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has tried to improve the situation, and in 2006 it introduced good-as-new notes for the occasion, which are used ones still in good condition. With the public more aware of the importance of protecting the environment nowadays, the HKMA says 45 per cent of customers now accept good-as-new notes for their lai see money, up from 20 per cent when the HKMA first issued them.
That would reduce the amount of cotton used for new banknotes to about 346 tonnes.
But while many have accepted that they no longer need to use newly printed banknotes for lai see, it appears the public has not yet adopted the same concept when it comes to lai see packets themselves.
Many companies give out lai see packets that carry their logos or company names as a way to promote their brand. Many of these packets feature nice designs that add to the Lunar New Year spirit. But they are not very environmentally friendly because most of the packets are used only once and then thrown away.
It's time to think about making better use of used lai see packets or ways to recycle them.