Chinese New Year (CNY) is a festival that celebrates new beginnings. Remove the bad and the old, and welcome the new and the good – that’s the general concept behind this timeless annual celebration that occurs on the 1st to the 15th day of every Lunar New Year.
This annual tradition has spurned many attempts to create newness in our everyday lives – from spring cleaning, to new clothes, new CNY snacks and new shoes. The tradition of giving new notes in red packets, also known as ang baos, is also one of those “lucky” acts that has stuck around for quite some time. No one knows the origin of this tradition but it is likely a very Singaporean custom.
When I was a child, I used to receive those crisp new notes from relatives and will keep them in my physical coin box that had a lock and key. Those notes will not see daylight until around the March school holidays where I would dip into the box to take out a few notes to buy toys and gifts. The shopkeeper will always give one look at them and say: “CNY notes eh?”
The habit of keeping my new notes continued until adulthood. But by then I was not as capable of stashing them away for a longer time compared to when I was a child. The notes will “show themselves” almost a week or two after CNY for various reasons – when it was too out of the way to head to the bank to draw cash or when I wanted to meet my friends for dinner. As an adult, I had to pay for everything with my own funds, which explained why money seeped out faster.
The beautiful new notes had to change hands with retailers in order for me to obtain and consume any goods and services. Goodbye to their pristine condition.
The Responsibility Of A CNY Red Packet Giver
Now that CNY is around the corner once again, I am tasked with a bigger responsibility this year. Instead of being the receiver of ang baos, I will be a giver of ang baos.
Of course the criteria for those who will get ang baos from me will be limited to – relatives of mine who are younger than me and single (it’s a Chinese tradition), babies, and my parents. I am not Santa Claus with unlimited resources at my disposal and so the gifting practice will stick strictly to Chinese traditions.
As a person who is living in and witnessing a world fraught with climate change, pollution, melting ice caps, and food insecurity, I am naturally conscious of my consumption and my impact on the only planet that we have.
Therefore when the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it will stop producing and issuing “good-as-new” $2 notes from this CNY, I had to tuck away my nostalgic memories of holding the precious new notes as a child and be sensible about how things have to change for the better.
What Are Fit-For-Gifting Notes
The MAS is pushing for the use of Fit-for-gifting notes this CNY. These are used currency notes that are generally clean and of suitable quality for recirculation, including for festive gifting. They are deemed a more sustainable option compared to good-as-new notes and new notes.
The condition of these Fit notes has been verified by banknote processing machines and are similar in quality to notes from automated teller machines (ATMs).
The notes will be clean and devoid of stains and tears but they are not brand new and may have visible creases on the surface.
A Bene-Fit-cial Choice
Why are older notes more sustainable? That’s because the work done behind-the-scenes for consumers to get their good-as-new and brand new notes is no small feat.
Let’s first take a look at how good-as-new notes are sourced. Introduced in 2013, good-as-new notes are generally crisp and new-looking but not freshly printed notes.
For consumers to receive these good-as-new notes from the ATMs, the notes have to be retrieved and deposited back to MAS shortly after the previous CNY by the banks. The machine process to ensure that the notes are in very good condition generates additional carbon emissions that is comparable to powering 32 Housing and Development Board (HDB) 4-room flats yearly.
Excess new notes that are issued purely for CNY generate carbon emissions that are comparable to powering 430 Housing and Development Board 4-room flats annually. There are about 100 million new notes issued every year for CNY and other festive periods and in order to offset the emissions caused, you will need to plant 10,000 new trees.
Most of the returned notes are recirculated, but excess notes are accumulated and destroyed before the end of their useful life as they “far exceed” replacement demand.
If withdrawing new notes provides an unreasonable negative impact on the planet, then it is not worth it. That’s because I am a conscious consumer who is constantly thinking about how to reduce waste so as to preserve the planet for future generations.
In fact, I already expect an increase in consumption during CNY – ordering CNY clothes increases my parcel delivery carbon footprint, turning on the lights until late during the festive period causes more electricity use, and eating more at restaurants and at home can lead to food waste.
At least I can be comforted to know that I did play a part in reducing unnecessary waste by changing to using Fit notes for red packet gifting.
72 DBS and POSB ATMs across 47 locations in Singapore will be open for the withdrawals of new and Fit notes from Jan 5 (new notes for 67 pop-up ATMs and Fit notes at 5 pop-up ATMs). Customers can also reserve a slot online. UOB will also have 2 Fit notes ATM locations and 15 new notes ATM locations plus an online reservation portal for the notes. OCBC allows the booking of an appointment online to exchange for Fit notes.
DBS ATMs limits 3 withdrawals per customer for CNY notes
|$2||$100 ($2 x 50 pcs)|
|$10||$300 ($10 x 30 pcs)|
|$50||$500 ($50 x 10 pcs)|
|$10, $50||$600 ($10 x 20 pcs) + ($50 x 8 pcs)|
Customers queueing at a POSB branch on the 1st day of withdrawals / Image Credit: Angela Teng
If you are a busy working adult, it is better to make an online reservation instead of queueing at the ATMs to make the withdrawal experience more comfortable.
I Am Not “Trendy” Enough To Send Digital Ang Baos, Yet
Banks are also pushing and supporting digital ang bao initiatives. This works through sending digital money to recipients via internet banking. The banks are allowing users to customise messages, designs, or animations in their gifts. Some banks even provide discount codes and promotions to get more to participate and it has been working as more are sending e-ang baos in recent years.
For someone who has grown up receiving traditional red packets, digital ang baos are still a relatively new experience to me and it will take some time for me to adopt that as a way to gift my nieces and nephews, and future children.
Even though I am a hyper-digital native with multiple e-wallets and will opt to pay cashless whenever I can, the old fashioned way of physically handing a person a gift is still my preference, for now at least.
I do believe that the day will come when I have to move with the times: When bank queues grow longer or if I am short of time to withdraw cash due to life commitments, or when physical money is endangering trees, or if children request for digital money instead of cash. When the time comes, I will also have to follow whatever the new generation does and move forward.
Featured Image Credit: Angela Teng
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