BANKING
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Lunar New Year

'Good as new' banknotes gaining favour for Lunar New Year red packets

HKMA push to make giving red lai see packets a greener act starting to bear fruit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 February, 2015, 12:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 4:23pm

Ten years of effort to make the Lunar New Year lai see tradition more environmentally friendly is bearing fruit, with an estimated 140 million fewer new notes being used in the lucky red packets each year.

And this has helped save 186 tonnes of cotton.

Lydia Chan Yip Siu-ming, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority's head of currency, said support from the public and the note-issuing banks had seen the share of used but "good as new" notes increase to 45 per cent from 20 per cent in 2006.

That reduced the number of new banknotes used each year for lai see packets to about 260 million and cut cotton consumption to 346 tonnes.

As the Lunar New Year approaches, the authority has renewed its call for the public to consider environmental protection and put "good as new" used banknotes in lai see packets rather than newly printed ones.

With many people using credit cards or Octopus cards for everyday purchases, the usage of banknotes has fallen - except during the Lunar New Year when an estimated HK$10 billion of banknotes are needed for lai see packets.

In the run-up to the new year, bank customers queue for hours to withdraw newly printed notes, mostly HK$20 notes.

"In the past three years, on average about 300 million to 400 million notes were issued in the run-up to each new year," Chan said.

That has seen the three note-issuing banks busy printing new notes to meet the demand.

In contrast to overseas markets, where it is the government that issues banknotes, the Hong Kong government only issues the HK$10 notes and coins, with HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China issuing the other banknotes.

According to Chinese tradition, lai sees are given to children and unmarried people as a way of bestowing a blessing.

Most companies also give lai see packets to their staff as a blessing on their first day back at work after the Lunar New Year break.

To greet the Lunar New Year, most people would want things clean and new; homes spruced up, new clothes and notes that go into the red packets.

According to the monetary authority's statistics, it takes 532 tonnes of cotton to produce 400 million banknotes, which would occupy 666 cubic metres of storage space - enough to fill 26 20-foot containers.

Chan said the authority had introduced a scheme in 2006 to encourage the note-issuing banks to provide "good as new" notes for lai see packets.

"The HKMA encourages the public to continue supporting environmental protection and use more good-as-new notes for lai sees," Chan said. "They can help protect the environment by using fewer brand-new banknotes."