PETALING JAYA - You are right if you think that it is increasingly difficult to get new bank notes in the past few years, especially in the run-up to Chinese New Year.
And the situation is such that even "priority customers" do not get 100 per cent new notes.
This is because Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has been lowering the number of new notes it releases at this time and that includes the run-up to Hari Raya.
According to the central bank, many customers deposit their "takings" from the season straight into their banks, causing an accumulation of new notes that don't even get circulated when the banks routinely send cash to BNM for processing.
"About 70 per cent of the 750 million banknotes are returned as deposits right after Chinese New Year and Hari Raya, resulting in excess banknotes that then sit around unused," said Azman Mat Ali, BNM's director for currency management and operations department.
For a long time, central banks in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia faced the same problem. And all of them agree that the lastng solution is to stagger the supply of new notes, and at the same time, launch education campaigns.
"The public has to realise the culture of giving out new notes leads to wastage of both natural and financial resources," he said.
Every Chinese New Year and Hari Raya, BNM has to print an additional 500 million pieces of RM1 (S$0.37) and RM5 banknotes to meet the demand for crisp, clean notes.
This consumes 80 tonnes of ink and requires 2,000,000kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity, an amount enough to power 10,000 homes consuming 200kWh (or RM44) a month. These do not yet include the carbon footprint of transporting, securing and storing cash.
In July 2013, BNM launched the Go Green campaign to change the way Malaysians view what it calls "fit" notes - its definition of notes that are still good enough to be passed around, even in an ang pow.
"While recognising the tradition of giving ang pow and duit raya, there is an increasing need to manage natural resources to preserve the environment and to enhance efficiency in the distribution of bank notes," said Azman.
For the past 11 years, BNM has been recirculating polymer RM5 notes that customers deposit back into the banking system right after festivities.
For BNM, the message is that there will always be enough "fit" notes to go around. "New notes will be supplied on a real need basis. You may get it, or you may not," said Azman.
Increasingly, Malaysians are "feeling" BNM's direction, though not all see the environmental reasons behind it.
"I say about three out of 10 customers can appreciate the logic behind the move," said the branch manager of a bank in Bidor, Perak.
"This insistence on new notes is more prevalent among the seniors," he said.
"Customers now pay more attention to the appearance of the RM10 note, which is still paper," he added.