Red envelope tradition on Lunar New Year kills 16,000 trees a year, says green group

Campaigners behind envelope-reuse campaign asks public to think twice about lai see, with 75pc of people saying it goes untouched or in the bin

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 5:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 5:05pm

Hongkongers are killing 16,300 trees each year as they exchange some 320 million red envelopes among family and friends during the Lunar New Year holidays, according to a green group’s survey.

The 2013 poll was conducted among 808 respondents by Greeners Action, a charitable environmental conservancy which is pushing for the reuse of paper envelopes. The red packets, or lai see, usually stuffed with money and inscribed with auspicious symbols, are given as a gesture of luck and goodwill.

“The estimated usage of red envelopes has increased from 180 million in 2012 to 320 million last year and the trend is worrying,” said Angus Ho Hon-wai, executive director of the group.

Banks and shops use the envelopes as a marketing tool as such they are unwilling to stop
Angus Ho Hon-wai, Greeners Action

Close to half of the respondents said they were given the envelopes – mainly by banks, housing estates, shops and restaurants, and even by their local district council offices and other government organisations.

Ho said there are signs of excess, with 75 per cent of the respondents indicating they did not use all the envelopes they were given. Half of the respondents said they would reuse the red envelopes, while 26 per cent would throw them in the rubbish bin.

Since 2010, the group has been running a programme to encourage the collection and reuse of red envelopes in the city.

Last year, it set up 362 collection points in different housing estates and received two million used red packets. It says the community is supportive of the drive, with 65 per cent saying they were willing to donate, and 85 per cent saying they were willing to receive, the envelopes.

The group is also pushing a voluntary “Corporate Environmental Red Envelope” charter to rein in the “excessive” printing of red envelopes by shops and corporations.

However, the response has been lukewarm so far, with only four companies signing up to the charter.

“Banks and shops use the envelopes as a marketing tool as such they are unwilling to stop,” Ho lamented. “Last time when we approached some of the companies months before the [Lunar] New Year, they told us that the envelopes had already gone to print.”

The group will distribute 50,000 reused envelopes in Tuen Wan, Mong Kok and Tuen Mun over the next three weekends.

The public can also collect the used envelopes from eleven Jockey Club betting stations and 32 Link Reit shopping malls throughout the city.

Greeners Action conducted the interviews in various districts in Kowloon and the New Territories from October to November last year, with the sample set’s ages reflecting demographics of the Hong Kong population.

Whereas the last year survey used real poll responses, previous studies examined census figures and other collected data.