chinesenewyearsavingtheplanetwitheangpows

Saving The Planet With e-Angpows?

Can e-Angpows really save the planet? There has been discussion regarding the use of e-Angpows. This is especially important during this period of COVID-19 where social distancing has to be observed. Of course, saving literal tonnes of paper and wasteful withdrawing then depositing is a big bonus. In this article, we will look at the case for and against the digital red packets and what can we do to balance tradition and the environment.

Why Do We Give Out Angpows During Festivities?

In Chinese societies, red packets are filled with even amounts of money and given out during social and family gatherings such as weddings and Chinese New Year.

The symbolism of giving out the red packets has evolved over the years. The origin involves chasing away a demon with money-filled red packets.

Now, it mainly symbolizes the blessing of a good year ahead and a show of kindness from the giver to the recipient.

It has turned into a source of stress for some people as they worry about affordability based on their circumstances and the amount of money that is appropriate to give based on their age and closeness.

Remember the true meaning of this tradition, it should not be a source of stress. Just give out what you can afford and don’t be affected by guides online on how much you have to give.

More Cultures That Also Give Out Money During Festivities

South Korea

korea seollal new year

Source: KoreaBANG

White envelopes, instead of red, are given during the Lunar New Year (설날 Seollal) period.

Japan

otosidama japan new year

Source: cbc-gict.net

Monetary gifts, otoshidama (お年玉), are placed in white or decorated envelopes and given to children during the new year period.

Southeast Asian Muslims and Hindus

green packet muslim

Source: Kuala Lumpur Hospitality

purple packet hindu

Source: DBS

Influenced by the Chinese, some Muslims give out green packets during Hari Raya Aidilfitri and some Hindus give out purple packets during Deepavali.

How to give out e-Angpow?

DBS bank has come up with step-by-step instructions on how to send an e-Angpow.

e-angpow dbs instructions

Source: DBS

You can attach personalized messaged and choose an animation to appear when your recipient receives the a-Angpow.

It is straightforward and easy to use but it might not be for everybody as it is not currently viewed as a close substitute for its physical counterpart.

Seedly has covered it quite extensively in their Ultimate Guide To e-Angbaos.

DBS QR Gift – Something In Between Physical And e-Angpows?

dbs qr gift

Source: Straits Times

DBS has pushed out QR cards in 2019  that you can load with money and put them in red packets to give out. It has a redeemed-by date where the funds will be refunded if the time has lapsed and it is not redeemed.

I am wondering how successful is this QR gift campaign as it aims to replace the real physical red packets by just replacing the money with a QR code inside. It is not as meaningful as physical red packets and not as eco-friendly and convenient as e-Angpows.

However, I hope the availability of this product can help people get more used to doing digital payments. Once the general public gets used to QR payments, we will slowly lower the dependencies on cash and move to mainly cashless options. We must also always remember that not everyone has access to the banking system and e-payment options.

It is also good that they have tried to lower the environmental effect by providing recycling points at all DBS/POSB branches.

Also, a point to note, for the online booking of physical notes, the DBS site crashed and all time slots were taken up within hours.

They also allow QR gifts to be booked and sent to your doorstep for free.

This “inconvenience” hopefully

e-Angpows Vs Physical Angpows

Here are the arguments for and against e-Angpows

For – Environmentally friendly

Tay Paper Recycling, a local paper shredding and recycling business, partnered with local companies to help recycle used red packets. In 2020, the recycling company expects to receive about 8,000 kg of used red packets a 100% increase from the 4,000 kg it received in 2019 for recycling.

This amount is small compared to the total amount of red packets used in a year. We do not have Singapore specific numbers but Hong Kong, a country that has about 30% more people than Singapore, consumes 320 million red packets a year.

Approximate Hong Kong Chinese Population

92% x 7.51m = 6.91m

Approximate Singapore Chinese Population

3.01m

Singapore’s projected annual red packet consumption

3.01m / 6.91m x 320 million packets = 139 million packets

Weight of 139 million packets with every red packet weighing about 3g

139 million packets x 3g = 417,000 kg

Recycling rate

8,000kg / 417,000 kg = 1.9%

Doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, only 1.9% of our total red packets given out is recycled. An estimated 409,000 kg of waste is created each year just in Singapore alone.

Not only the red packets create waste, the production of new notes each Chinese New Year creates 330 tonnes of carbon emissions. This is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 180 four-room HDB households.

Imagine withdrawing new notes by families then depositing back the new notes by the recipients. This is then repeated between families where they give out similar amounts to each other’s children. Bonkers right?

wasteful cycle of ang pow giving

The amount of resources wasted on bank tellers and special ATMs are not even included in the calculations.

For – Social Distancing During Covid Period

Some big families might be having their reunion dinners separately so meeting up might not be possible. Although the number of communities Covid cases remain low in the last few months, we cannot take it for granted and waste the sacrifice everyone made for the past year by breaching social distancing protocol.

In this case, the availability of digital red packets is a good tool for families that do not meet up during this period.

Against – Lack Of Tradition Or “Feel”

The ritual of receiving a physical red packet and saying auspicious words to each other is part of the experience during Chinese New Year. Many feel that receiving the e-Angpow just doesn’t feel right. As it is a once-a-year thing, people will think that the cultural tradition of physical red packets outweighs the environmental impact.

There is just not enough incentive for the masses to make the switch to the environmentally friendly option.

Against – Exclusion Of Those Without Access To e-Payments Solutions

Those without easy access to e-payment options will not be able to make use of the electronic red packets. They are the elderly folks, where some of them need help with technology. Also, this affects children that do not access to their own bank account without parental approval and supervision. Coincidentally, the more elderly folks place more emphasis on the cultural meaning of the action of giving physical red packets. It is more practical and convenient to give these groups of people physical red packets instead.

Proposed Improvements To The Current e-Angpow System

We can try to make it more fun and closer to the traditional experience to encourage adoption.

Imitate Experience Of Physical Red Packets

google pay scratch card

Source: Google Pay

Google pay reward users by giving away scratch cards when they perform certain actions within its app. This can give some feeling of suspense and the fun of scratching away the top to reveal the e-Angpow amount, imitating the feeling of opening red packets.

Animation of pulling out the “money” to reveal the amount received can also be implemented to make it feel as close to a physical red packet as possible.

Incentives for using e-Angpow

Some incentives include

  • Lucky draw chance for every e-Angpow sent to a unique recipient above a certain amount.
  • Random cashback for every e-Angpow given

Record environmental impact of using digital payments

The payments app can also provide a tracker to show how much carbon emissions or trees are saved from the individual using digital payments as compared to physical payments.

These will help drive adoption for using digital red packets and get people used to using digital payments for everyday life.

e-Angpows In China

China is a leader in e-Angpows as their mobile payments’ adoption is extremely high. The huge land size of China makes it more convenient for people to send digital red packets if they are situated at a distance from their relatives.

Marketing Budget

Companies like Pinduoduo, Douyin and Taobao in China spend billions of yuan in virtual red packets as their marketing budget to attract traffic and keep them as active users on their platforms.

Group Red Envelopes

WeChat is an all-in-one app. This has allowed WeChat to perform what others cannot on e-Angpows.

wechat vs all apps

Source: UX Collective

Besides the private red packet giving between two individuals, the combination of a payment and chat app has allowed WeChat to allow individuals to set a lump sum and give out a red packet in a group chat where the application randomly assigns the amount in each red packet to each recipient. It adds an element of luck and suspense, it made it fun to send out red packets this way.

Environmental Effect Of Red Packets Vs Other Sources

Decorations

70% of red packets are recyclable while the different decorations of Chinese New Year are a different question.

store selling cny decorations

Source: Business Times

The different decorations are made with a combination of plastics, metals, cloth, paper. Without a proper sorting system, most of these decorations would not be recyclable.

People tend to buy new things (Decorations, clothes, shoes, etc)  for the new year as it symbolizes welcoming new things and getting ready for a new start.

Also, as the Lunar New Year is zodiac specific, some decorations cannot be reused for the next year.

chinatown chinese new year street light up

Source: The New Age Parents

year of rat decorations at chinatown chinese new year

Source: The New Age Parents

There are also the huge roadside fixtures at Chinatown. There are no statistics but I would imagine the annual waste from the disposal of decorations would be at least comparable or even exceed the waste created from red packets.

I understand that there is a program that lets people adopt-a-lantern where the general public can adopt one or more lanterns in Chinatown for free after the street light-up ends.

I have written in to the organizers of the annual light ups for Chinatown regarding the program and some additional questions regarding their efforts regarding reducing wastes.

Go the environmentally friendly route and make your decorations out of old red packets and materials found at home. If you really have to purchase decorations, go for generic, biodegradable ones so that you can reuse them for the years to come.

Next, we will take a look at two of the waste types with the worst recycling rates.

2019 waste statistics and overall recycling

 

Source: NEA

Food

We have our reunion dinners, steamboats and snacks every year during Chinese New Year. We are always kiasu and overbuy, leading to waste.

Chinese New Year foods

Source: SupChina

It is fine to indulge yourselves during the festivities but don’t get too excited and go crazy with your food purchases.

What you can do is to buy higher qualities of food instead of buying higher quantities of food that you are unable to finish and waste.

Textiles

The tradition is to buy new clothes to symbolize a new start and fresh hopes for the New Year.

If you really have to buy new clothes, buy something that you can wear throughout the year. Don’t buy a cheap piece from t**b** and just chuck it aside after the new year.

Will Physical Angpows Ever Go away?

The action of giving out physical red packets during the Lunar New Year still has great significance to many so it will probably stay for the next 20-30 years. As more and more people gain more environmental awareness, hopefully, the adoption of the digital alternative can increase. Digital red packets and payments have to evolve and appeal to the masses before it becomes mainstream.

The middle of the age spectrum 20 – 40s would adopt e-Angpows first followed by the older folks and kids.

What Can We Do?

Give digital red packets to those that have access to digital payments and give physical red packets to those without easy access to e-wallets.

This year, I will be giving my parents e-Angpows while giving my grandparent a physical angpow.

Edit on 27/1/2021: I was booking new notes for my mother and I managed to get some QR Gifts to test out. I will do a review when I get them.

TL;DR

e-Angpows are a step in the right direction. However, although physical red packets create a lot of waste annually, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Physical red packets are also not going away any time soon. The adoption of digital red packets and payments require more incentives for people to make the switch. Give e-Angpows to those that can receive them easily and give physical Angpows to those without easy access to digital payments.

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