Why are red packets & certain papers more difficult to recycle?

Reduce the use of paper, then reuse and recycle when possible.

Zhangxin Zheng | March 13, 2022, 09:52 PM

“All paper can be recycled.”

A spokesperson from homegrown recycler, Tay Paper Recycling, told me a couple of times when he spoke about paper recycling.

I expected to find out more about red packet recycling, given the recent festivities, and the 30-minute call indeed led me into the rabbit hole of paper recycling.

While all types of paper can be recycled, some are more difficult to recycle than others, the spokesperson shared.

Paper recycling

At the paper recycling centre, the papers collected will have contaminants removed first, including any embellishment, foil and plastic materials.

This is before they are being pulped and treated.

And how do you know whether your paper can be recycled?

There are a few simple ways to tell.

Test 1: If you try to tear a piece of paper apart from the middle and if it is white on the inside, it is recyclable.

Test 2: If you try crumpling a wrapping paper and it stays scrunched up, then it is likely recyclable.

Paper coated with plastic, wax or foil either cannot or can be hard to recycle.

Tissue, toilet paper and kitchen towel are not recyclable because their fibres are too small to be recycled again. Some of these are also products of recycled paper.

It is estimated that paper can be recycled up to seven times before its fibres become too short to be recycled anymore.

Red packets not easy to recycle

Fancy red packets often embellished with decoration and lamination are among papers that are more difficult to recycle.

Besides removing the embellishment from the paper, what makes red packets even less appealing for recycling is the amount of red ink used.

Part of the paper recycling process at a paper mill involves mixing paper with water and chemicals to break the paper down into fibres so that they can be turned into paper products again.

Red dye from red packets can contaminate the water in this process.

They result in the need to change the water more frequently and reduce the possibility to reuse the water at the paper mill, the spokesperson at Tay Paper Recycling explained.

There is still demand for red packets in the recycling industry

As a result, the process of pulping red packets may be more labour intensive and costly which may deter some paper mills from accepting red packets.

In the same vein, paper products with heavy decorations and dark coloured dyes are therefore less appealing for paper mills to take up for recycling.

That said, there are still a few paper mills globally that take in red packets along with other types of paper.

Tay Paper Recycling exports red packets and other papers collected in Singapore to these paper mills.

On the consumers’ end, you can drop off your red packets at collection points located in DBS and POSB bank outlets.

DBS’ red packets collection runs all year round.

via DBS Facebook.

Alternatively, if you want to go green, you can opt for other ways of gifting.

Alternatives to red packets

Besides collecting red packets for recycling, DBS also launched alternatives to red packets. They include QR gift cards for those who prefer physical gifting and digital gift cards like DBS eGifts.

“The amount of ink and gold stamping on traditional red packets indeed makes them harder to recycle and as such, we encourage customers to use DBS’ QR Gift Card which is made of environmentally-friendly, FSC-certified paper, or to go completely paperless with e-Gifting,” Diane Chang, the Executive Director of DBS' Consumer Banking Group Singapore Ecosystem & Marketplace, shared.

While CNY is now over, here’s an example of the QR gift card which you can use for other festivities or occasions all year round:

via DBS.

via DBS.

Reducing the use of cash can also help reduce carbon emissions.

If all DBS customers reduced their cash withdrawals by one per cent, the total carbon emissions saved is equivalent to saving 600 trees, according to DBS’ estimates.

Reduce, reuse and recycle papers

Besides finding alternatives to red packets, what’s more important is to switch to using more recycled paper.

Recycled paper uses 70 per cent less energy than making it from raw materials.

We can also reduce the amount of paper through simple acts such as reusing papers and printing on both sides of the paper. Or simply go digital.

Every small act will go a long way.

This article was made possible with the support of DBS Bank.

Through this partnership, we hope to inspire more people to take small but important steps towards a sustainable lifestyle, and raise awareness of purpose-driven businesses and individuals that are leading the way in driving positive change.

Discover more about DBS Bank’s sustainability initiatives here.

Top image by Zheng Zhangxin and via Tay Paper Recycling YouTube video screen grab