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Reflections on Mid-Autumn Day
AFAR
9/11/2003



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HONG KONG - It is a Chinese tradition to eat “moon cakes,” a flour cake with sweet filling, on the fifteenth day of August in the lunar calendar. However, the conventional metal container for moon cakes is a detriment to the environment. A Hong Kong-based environmental protection group initiated the “Always Thoughtful” movement, calling on moon cake makers to recycle such containers. It also encourages citizens to actively participate in recycling and protecting the environment.

Zhu Hanjiang, a researcher with “Friends of Planet Earth,” says that 1,900 tons of used wrapping materials are dumped in landfills every day, which makes up 20% of all solid waste. Every year, approximately 3 million moon cake containers are thrown away. If all of these containers were piled up, their height would be 414 times that of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong or 300 times that of the Taiping Mountain.

Currently, Hong Kong does not have a system to recycle these metal containers. Zhu stresses that the manufacturers should take the responsibility for recycling, as law in Japan and Korea requires them to. However, no such laws exist in Hong Kong, where the metal containers are simply buried in landfills. The cost of processing is thus carried by the public.

“Friends of Planet Earth” has written to Mei Xin, the largest moon cake maker in Hong Kong, asking them to take responsibility for recycling the metal containers. Mei Xin has not made any promises. “Friends of Planet Earth” also encourages citizens to support recycling.

Wu Xiaowei, Executive Director of “Friends of Planet Earth,” says that the move marks the beginning of a long-term effort to help manufacturers and consumers become more responsible for the environment.

Zhu is critical of the Hong Kong government’s environmental policy. He says that Hong Kong has advocated for a clean city for 30 years, but all they did was tell citizens to throw the trash into garbage cans. The volume of garbage did not decrease. Government statistics show that from 1990 to 2002, household waste volumes in Hong Kong increased. There are two reasons for the increased garbage levels. One is that consumers are overly concerned about the look and wrapping of products, resulting in excessive and extravagant wrapping. Second is that manufactures are not taking the responsibility of reducing solid waste. If the volume of waste is reduced from its source, the amount of garbage will decrease, too.

Mainland China is even worse than Hong Kong in this respect. In those areas, they even use wood to make moon cake containers. According to sources from Mainland China, large areas of forests are cut down to produce the wooden containers. While celebrating holidays, people are actually destroying the environment. Zhu thinks that laws can only have limited effect in changing people’s behavior. It is also very important to change their thinking. He believes that the government should educate consumers to care about the environment, foster a sense of ownership of the land, and strengthen their awareness of civic rights and responsibilities.

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