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Let’s Go Plastic-free for the Mid-Autumn Festival

Original Chinese article published on Sing Tao Daily “Green Forum” (24 September, 2018)
Author: Green Power

Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a very important traditional festival for Hong Kong people. It is time to celebrate with typical activities such as giving mooncakes, family reunion dinners and carrying lanterns. Since 2004, Green Power has conducted a yearly survey on the streets, comparing the habits of the general public in celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival and the changes in consumption over the years. The results showed that the amount of mooncakes thrown away by the general public reached the lowest on record this year, in comparison to the past 15 years. However, the packaging of mooncakes still contained quite a lot of unnecessary plastic. Moreover, the amount of glow sticks used and thrown away by the general public was still significant, resulting in plastic waste and pollution problems.

The survey results showed that each responding family threw away 0.38 mooncakes on average last year. The amount of discarded mooncakes has reached the lowest recorded in recent years. Based on the survey results, it was estimated that families in Hong Kong threw away a total of over 970,000 mooncakes last year. It was the first time the number of mooncakes discarded by families in Hong Kong was below 1 million, since the survey began, reflecting an encouraging improvement in the situation. However, 970,000 mooncakes is still a very shocking number. Over 40% of these mooncakes were thrown away because of “expiration”. Therefore, consumers should pay attention to the expiration date of the mooncakes leftover while celebrating the festival. If the mooncakes could not be finished before the expiration date, they should be donated to charity organisations as soon as possible. The survey also showed that 60% of the general public did not prefer mooncakes as gifts. It is advised that consumers could ask the receivers if they want mooncakes as gifts before buying. Other ways, such as sending fruits as gifts or treating people to reunion meals are also alternatives to reduce the overproduction of mooncakes.

In an overview of the packaging of mooncakes in the market this year, some brands that used to produce environmentally friendly mooncakes in the past did not launch similar products this year. In other words, consumers have fewer choices. A regular box of 4-piece mooncakes had at least 10 items of packaging. Some brands even produced oversized mooncake boxes and therefore required the use of extra plastic items to support the mooncakes. Also, some brands continued to give away plastic knives. In fact, many plastic items in mooncake packaging are unnecessary. The sales volume of mooncakes reaches over 100,000 every year, creating a large quantity of plastic waste and causing a tremendous burden to the landfills. The producers have a responsibility to reduce plastic waste and should start from the packaging designs. On the other hand, the general public can also reduce the burden mooncake packaging imposes on the landfills. The survey results showed that most of the general public would discard the mooncake boxes directly. In fact, the most ideal way is to reuse the mooncake boxes for storage purposes. Most of the boxes are made of metal, which could be put into recycling bins for metal if there is really no use for them.

The plastic-free movement has recently spread across the globe. A survey showed that over 90% of respondents were willing to reduce numbers of disposable plastic items used during Mid-Autumn Festival. Nearly 70% of respondents believed that glow sticks had the greatest impact on the environment. Over 70% of respondents thought that glow sticks were the most avoidable items for celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival. As is well known, glow sticks cause environmental problems. The plastic outer tubes of the glow sticks are hard to recycle. The toxic chemicals inside can even cause soil and water pollution if they are thrown away inappropriately. Hence, our society has recently become aware of the scourge of glow sticks.

However, as shown in the survey, there were no obvious improvements in the situation. The survey estimated that families in Hong Kong disposed of over 30 million glow sticks last year. On the other hand, nearly 30% of responding families stated that they would play with glow sticks this year, and each family would purchase 58.7 glow sticks on average. It could be estimated that millions of glow sticks would be discarded after Mid-Autumn Festival this year. Glow sticks can only glow for a few hours and yet cause serious problems to the environment; therefore, we call for the general public to stop playing with glow sticks.

Environmental awareness has always been high among the general public of Hong Kong. But sometimes, people may not pay enough attention or the products in the market may fail to match our needs, causing unnecessary waste. It is our wish that Hong Kong as a society can respond to the global plastic-free trend while celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. We should avoid buying mooncakes with too much plastic packaging and stop playing with glow sticks. Mooncake producers should also reduce unnecessary plastic packaging parts. Let’s go plastic-free for the Mid-Autumn Festival!

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