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Lunar New Year

City urged to think green on red packets with 320 million new lai see envelopes used per year

Campaign underway to collect, reuse or recycle disposed envelopes which contribute to paper wastage equivalent to 16,300 trees lost annually

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 7:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 11:00pm

A green group has made an appeal to the public to be more responsible in distributing red packets – also known as lai see – during the Lunar New Year, with more than 320 million new ones doled out every year.

Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said the amount of paper used for so many red packets – most of which end up in the city’s overflowing landfills – amounted to about 16,300 trees.

“It’s an astronomical figure,” said Ho. “I’ve looked at some numbers and it doesn’t seem like other places with Chinese people distribute as much lai see as we do.”

Taking electronic lai see to the next level

Stuffed with money and inscribed with auspicious symbols, red packets are given by married couples as a gesture of goodwill and luck. In line with tradition, many prefer to give out brand new envelopes and banknotes. About 200 million crisp, new notes are printed by the Monetary Authority to meet demand each year.

Through a campaign last year, the green group recovered about eight million red packets – 30 tonnes in weight – with about half of them in good enough condition to be redistributed and the rest sent for recycling.

The group’s eighth campaign kicked off Sunday with 500 collection points around the city including at shopping malls, Jockey Club betting stations, residential estates, hospitals and banks. The campaign will run till February 22.

I’ve looked at some numbers and it doesn’t seem like other places with Chinese people distribute as much lai see as we do
Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai

“It will give a lot of residents an opportunity to extend the life cycle of a lai see packet from just one year to two years or even three,” Ho said.

Every year since 2010, the group has been collecting and redistributing packets to the general public and non-profit organisations for reuse.

Although the amount being disposed of remained fairly constant, Ho said it was clear that public awareness was improving as more people were inquiring about how they could recycle or reuse the envelopes. He hoped to collect a volume similar to last year’s through the current campaign.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing also urged the public to reduce the amount of lai see packets used. To lessen wastage, he said he and his wife would put money into just one envelope as opposed to the common practice of handing out one each.

Last year the city disposed of 2,257 tonnes of waste paper every day – a 17.5 per cent increase from the year before, accounting for about a fifth of municipal solid waste. The annual recovery rate fell by 52,000 tonnes.

A long-awaited bill for imposing a waste levy will be put before the Legislative Council by the first quarter of this year.