Give digital red packets or fit-for-gifting notes this CNY to avoid harming the environment

About 100 million pieces of new notes for Chinese New Year and other festive periods are issued annually. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

SINGAPORE - Members of the public who want to do their part in protecting the environment from unnecessary emissions will soon find fit-for-gifting notes more readily available for the upcoming Chinese New Year.

Though not new, these notes are clean and of suitable quality for recirculation, including for festive gifting, said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Tuesday, adding that it would be working closely with banks to make these notes more accessible to the public. It said more details on the reservation and exchange of new and fit-for-gifting notes will be provided towards the end of the year. It also encouraged people to use fit-for-gifting notes or e-hongbao (digital red packets), instead of new notes.

“New notes issued just to meet the demand for festive gifting generate unnecessary carbon emissions and are a waste of resources,” said MAS.

Besides encouraging the use of fit-for-gifting notes, the central bank will also cease the issuance of good-as-new $2 notes from the upcoming Chinese New Year.

MAS said that fit-for-gifting notes are a more sustainable option, as good-as-new $2 notes generate additional carbon emissions because extra processing is needed. Fit-for-gifting notes are available in $2, $5, $10 and $50 denominations. The condition of these notes has been verified by banknote processing machines. The notes are similar in quality to those dispensed by ATMs.

Good-as-new notes are issued only during Chinese New Year and deposited back to MAS shortly thereafter by the banks. These notes, which come in only $2 denomination, are processed twice by MAS to ensure that only good quality good-as-new notes are harvested and reissued for the next Chinese New Year. About 100 million pieces of new notes for Chinese New Year and other festive periods are issued annually. A large majority of these notes are used only once for gifting and are then returned to MAS shortly after each Chinese New Year. The carbon emissions related to these excess new notes are the same as powering 430 four-room Housing Board flats annually, and about 10,000 new trees would need to be planted to offset these emissions.

The practice of printing new notes for festive gifting – and subsequently destroying most of them – is not in line with environmental sustainability and Singapore’s aspiration to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, said MAS. Ms Cindy Mok, its assistant managing director of finance, risk and currency, said that by using fit-for-gifting notes or e-hongbao, members of the public can not only convey blessings to their loved ones, but also do their part for a greener and more sustainable future for the next generation.

Ms Pey Peixun, projects associate director of Zero Waste SG, a non-profit organisation seeking to make Singapore a zero-waste nation, said no additional carbon emissions are released by using fit-for-gifting notes that are already in circulation.

Banks have also enhanced their e-hongbao offerings over the years, as a convenient and personalised way to send blessings to family and friends during festive periods. Mrs Ong-Ang Ai Boon, director of The Association of Banks in Singapore, said it will continue to support more sustainable alternatives for festive gifting which will make a meaningful difference to the environment. “Our member banks will encourage customers to use fit-for-gifting notes, as well as e-hongbao,” she added.

Mr Hong Poh Hin, treasurer of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, said: “While we observe the tradition of giving red packets as a form of blessing, the federation urges all to consider using fit-for-gifting notes to reduce the effect on our environment. This will pave the way for a sustainable future and leave our future generations a liveable environment, just as the previous generations have done for us.”

Madam Cathay Ng, a 56-year-old housewife, has been giving out e-hongbao to her relatives since 2021. “It doesn’t matter if the hongbao are given by hand or digitally. The most important thing is that we still carry on this tradition of giving hongbao to our loved ones,” she said.

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